The 20-time Major winner will quickly forget his 2021 season, struggling with injuries and failing to reach a Major final for the first time since 2016. Rafa claimed two titles on his beloved clay, but even that was not enough to make him a happy camper, as he failed to defend the Roland Garros crown.
Nadal lost in the quarter-final in Monte Carlo and Madrid to Andrey Rublev and Alexander Zverev, failing to match their pace and struggling against other youngsters in Barcelona and Rome. At both events, the Spaniard defended match points to lift the trophies, beating Novak Djokovic in the Rome final for his 36th Masters 1000 crown and hoping for more at Roland Garros.
Unlike in 2020, when he stormed over the entire field, Nadal was vulnerable behind the initial shot this year in Paris, winning five matches but failing to reach the final only for the fourth time since 2005. Rafa lost to Novak 3-6, 6-3, 7-6, 6-2 in four hours and 11 minutes in an epic semi-final clash, experiencing his third Roland Garros loss and the second to Novak, who bested him in the 2015 quarter-final.
It was one of the greatest matches of all time, with two tennis giants pushing each other to the limits from start to finish. Novak claimed only seven games in the last year's final, and he lost the opening five in this one, only with one big difference.
The Serb was ready to fight this time, finding his strokes by the end of the opener and taking the second to level the score in just under two hours of a grueling battle.
Rafael Nadal lost to Novak Djokovic after over four hours at Roland Garros.
From 5-3 down in the third, Nadal battled back to 5-5 and created a set point in the 12th game that could have been crucial.
Novak saved it and gathered momentum ahead of a tie break that he won 7-4 to move closer to the finish line. Dealing with fatigue and a foot injury, Nadal got broken thrice in a row in the fourth set to fall behind and hit the exit door, mighty disappointed but proud of how he fought.
Rafa stated he could not keep winning Roland Garros forever, aware it's not realistic to count to 18 or 20 titles in Paris. "My chances of winning Roland Garros are not eternal. In our sport, you have to admit both victory and defeat.
I know I can not win 15, 18 or 20 Roland Garros crowns, and it's not a disaster. I'm sad; I lost at the most important tournament for me, but it's just a defeat on the tennis court. Tomorrow, I will be at home with my family, and that's o.k. It's not a moment to be pleased or create drama; it's somewhere in the middle," Rafael Nadal said.