Nadal’s Acapulco triumph highlights impressive longevity

  • Matt Trollope

A few months out from his 34th birthday, Rafael Nadal continues to thrive, demonstrated by his title at the weekend in Acapulco.

In a masterful display, the world No.2 did not drop a set en route to his 85th career title, capped with a 6-3 6-2 dismissal of Taylor Fritz – a player 11 years his junior.

It was Nadal’s third career title in Acapulco, a tournament he won for the first time back in 2005 when it was contested on clay. 

The Spaniard was then aged 18; it was just his third career title and at that stage the biggest of his career.

Just a few months later he went on to triumph at Roland Garros, his first major title and a victory that set in motion a storied career that endures at the highest level today.

"Acapulco was the first big title that I won in my career, so to be able to stay here after 15 years is amazing,” said Nadal, who turned pro back in 2001.

"At the end of the day, I’m still competing for these feelings that I am having right now.”

Last year, Nadal became the oldest player in ATP rankings history to end a season at world No.1.

He has since slipped to No.2, behind a rampaging Novak Djokovic who took his 2020 record to a perfect 18-0 with victory on Saturday in the Dubai final over Stefanos Tsitsipas

Yet Nadal ensured his ranking points tally stayed within 500 of Djokovic with his victory in Acapulco, setting up an exciting battle for top spot that will unfold throughout March at Masters events at Indian Wells and Miami.

"At the end of the day, I’m still competing for these feelings that I am having right now."
Rafael Nadal

Should Nadal return to No.1 this year, it would be almost 12 years after he first rose to top spot in 2008.

Fritz remembers watching the popular Spaniard compete in that earlier stage in his career, a time when Nadal began to translate his success on clay to faster surfaces.

"To play with Rafa, who I've watched since I was a kid, it's pretty crazy when you step back to think about it,” said Fritz after falling to Nadal in one hour and 14 minutes in the Acapulco decider.

"He’s one of the best players to ever play the game and he showed me why that is tonight.”

Encouragingly for Nadal, his body held up to the physical demands of hard-court tennis, something which wasn’t the case in previous years.

Beginning with his injury absence from the ATP Basel event in late 2017, Nadal either withdrew from or retired during 16 of his next 19 hard court events, a dispiriting run that persisted through to last year’s tournament at Indian Wells.

However, since returning to hard courts at the Montreal Masters in August 2019, Nadal has withdrawn from just one of his subsequent eight hard court tournaments. 

And he has won four of them – Montreal, the US Open, the Davis Cup (for Spain) and Acapulco.

"I couldn’t be happier. I played a great event from the beginning to the end,” Nadal said.

"After not competing since Australia, it’s an important week for me and an important moment.

"This title doesn’t mean that I will have a great season. It means another good start of the season for me. It gives me confidence.”

Next he will target success at Indian Wells, a tournament he has won three times previously.