Rafael Nadal held the ATP World No. 1 trophy because perhaps even he was not sure if it was real.
“A lot of hard work,” he said with tears in his eyes which pretty much shows what the season has been like where he became the oldest year-end No. 1.
It’s not about the ranking – he has claimed it more emphatically in the past – nor is it about finishing in the top spot for the fifth time in his career. It’s not about longevity either – it’s been 11 years since he first finished a season as No. 1. It’s not even about the two Grand Slams – Roland Garros, for an astounding 12th time, and the US Open – he won this year, as riveting as that and the spoils have been. It’s not. It’s about what he got out of. Jailbreak. Mental, physical, emotional. A dark, dank corner in his mind, an aching body and a sagging will. In the spring of 2019, standing on his beloved red clay, Rafael Nadal contemplated a sabbatical from tennis.
It began, however, as most things do, in the month of January. After sitting out for almost five months, battling another bout of injury woes – abdomen, hip, right knee – the 33-year-old returned to competition at the Australian Open. He started well, not dropping a set until he encountered a flawless Novak Djokovic in the final, where he was sufficiently schooled before a stunned Melbourne Park full-house. Nadal won a mere eight games in his worst performance in a title round of a major. He just didn’t show up.