July 23, 2024

Open Court


With the men’s final one sleep away, Rafael Nadal practices (photos)


ROLAND GARROS – In this Roland Garros unlike any other, the day before the men’s singles final also was a day like few others.

Normally, as thousands of tennis fans buzz around the grounds awaiting the women’s final on the second Saturday, they’re likely to find one of the men’s finalists practicing on a field court.

At that point the word will get around and the fans will flock there. That’s true on any day, but especially when there isn’t much else going on.

It’s a rare opportunity to get that close to the best in the game as they go through their paces the day before a major final.

But in 2020, for reasons we are all more than aware of, everything is very quiet and low-key.

Which probably suited Rafael Nadal just fine.

Living a private life in public

There was a big crew of folks watching Nadal’s practice (no women allowed, apparently).

And it’s clear that membership to the 12-title club has its privileges. The “plus-2” limit on entourages has been stretched, in Nadal’s case, to include both his coaches, physio, trainer, agent, public-relations guru, family …. and more on hand who perhaps have been able to get their hands on tickets for the weekend.

You have to earn that privilege, though.

Winning a dozen will get that done.

After the practice, Nadal went over to speak to all his peeps.

So the random fans who happened to be sitting in that area had the unexpected encounter of a lifetime as Nadal was there for at least 15 minutes, chatting – right next to them.

A private chat with Papa

After that, Nadal and his father Sebastian moved away from the rest of the crowd, and had a long private chat – again, in plain sight, with a lot of people watching their every move.

It’s an extraordinary way to live that superstars like Nadal are probably long used to by now. But it’s never not eye-opening to see.

We weren’t eavesdropping – it was a private conversation. But it looked very earnest, very father-and-son.

These are precious moments at this stage of the 34-year-old’s career, which began when Sebastian Nadal’s hair was jet black and continues as it’s a very statesmanlike white.

Get your photo – but social distance, por favor

There were a fair few people watching this practice, which took place approximately between 1-2 p.m., before the women’s singles final.

After it was over, one lucky kid got both of Nadal’s wristbands – one black, one white.

As he left the court, there were a dozen or so people outside Court 3 looking for photos.

Autographs have been out of the question at this COVID-careful Roland Garros. And – mercifully – the practice that some well-meaning but intrusive fans have of going right up to players, putting an arm around them and taking a selfie is also something that’s been lost with the trying times.

Nadal was fine with taking a few photos; the security people did not intervene.

But he was clear that they needed to keep their social distance.

He told them straight out, and directed them where to stand even as he had his required mask on.

Nadal bossed that the way he bosses his forehand around the court.

One more day, and he and Novak Djokovic will get at it.

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