Rafael Nadal, the 21-time Grand Slam champion and world No. 4, says he limps on “many days of my life” because of a “chronic foot injury.”
Nadal, 35, made the comments Thursday after saving four match points to prevail against David Goffin 6-3, 5-7, 7-6(9), in three hours and nine minutes at the Mutua Madrid Open. Nadal, a five-time Madrid champion, will face 19-year-old Spanish sensation Carlos Alcaraz, the world No. 9, in Friday’s quarterfinals at 10 a.m. ET.
“If you saw me on a daily basis, you would not be worried because I limp on many days of my life,” Nadal said. “I always have pain in my foot, especially after playing a three-hour match or long training. So it’s normal that now I am walking a little badly.
“But I have a chronic foot injury which has no treatment. That’s part of my life, and that’s the downside of not being able to finish the match earlier.
“In a way it’s good that I have long matches, because after a long break my foot needs to get use to the physical toughness of competition again. But I am also conscious for [Friday], because I can wake up with more problems and we have to accept and face it.”
Nadal improved to 22-1 in 2022 with victories at the Australian Open, Melbourne and Acapulco — all on outdoor hardcourts.
After losing in the finals of Indian Wells to Taylor Fritz on March 20, he was sidelined for six weeks due to a stress fracture in one of his left ribs.
Now he faces a brutal draw in Madrid that features Alcaraz in the quarterfinals, potentially world No. 1 Novak Djokovic in the semis and No. 3 Alexander Zverev, No. 5 Stefanos Tsitsipas, No. 8 Andrey Rublev or No. 10 Felix Auger-Aliassime in the final.
Djokovic was scheduled Thursday to play three-time major champion and former world No. 1 Andy Murray, but advanced in a walkover because Murray dealt with a bout of food poisoning. Djokovic probably would have liked to play the match because he needs to round into form ahead of the French Open.
Nadal is 2-0 against Alcaraz, who celebrated his 19th birthday Thursday with a three-set win over No. 11 Cam Norrie of Britain, 6-4, 6-7, 6-3.
Nadal crushed his younger countryman, 6-1, 6-2, in the round of 32 in Madrid a year ago, and then needed three sets to conquer him in the Indian Wells semis.
“I lost twice against him and I wanted to play against him the third time,” Alcaraz said of facing Nadal. “I think it’s going to be different from last year [in Madrid] and the last match that we played [in Indian Wells]. I’m excited to play against Rafa here in Madrid in front of the Spanish crowd. It’s going to be a great day and a great match.”
Asked how he can earn his first head-to-head win against his countryman, a respectful Alcaraz exuded a quiet confidence: “Honestly, I don’t know. I always say that he has 1,000 lives. He dies and he survives, in every tough match for him. I think if I play a pretty good game, I’ll have chances to win.”
Nadal spent Wednesday night in the stands for Real Madrid’s 3-1 win over Manchester City in the Champions League semifinals, and said he was inspired by the victory.
“It was an unforgettable night. The spirit that the Real Madrid team has is just incredible,” Nadal said after his victory. “For me today, in some ways it has been an inspiration in the way I have been fighting all my tennis career.
“Honestly, it was a very tough match. I think I played at a very high level. But at the same time I am not completely happy because I have to finish the match in straight sets, without a doubt.”
Nadal, as well as Djokovic, Alcaraz and the world’s other top players, are gearing up for the French Open which begins May 22. Nadal has won 13 of his 21 major titles at Roland Garros, but fell in an epic semifinal to Djokovic a year ago.