The first months of 2021 were not exciting for Rafael Nadal, who was forced to deal with a series of problems that affected his performance on the pitch. The Spanish phenomenon was only able to compete in the Australian Open at the beginning of the year due to a back pain, having failed to go beyond the quarter-finals at Melbourne Park.
The former world number 1 chose to take a break with the intention of recovering from a physical point of view, then returned to Monte Carlo to inaugurate his season on red. Rafa's balance sheet was not what we were used to, at least until now, as the Iberian left the stage in the quarters both in the Principality and at the Mutua Madrid Open.
In the middle came his only title in Barcelona, after having canceled a match point to Stefanos Tsitsipas in the last act. The great goal of the 20-time Grand Slam champion is of course Roland Garros, which will start in about twenty days.
An eventual 14th triumph in the French capital would allow him to detach his eternal rival Roger Federer for the first time in the all-time ranking of the Majors. Last weekend, the 34-year-old from Manacor received the prestigious 'Laureus Award Sportsman of the Year' for the second time in his career.
One of the legends of women's tennis, Martina Navratilova, took the opportunity to praise Nadal's extraordinary strength.
Navratilova pays tribute to Rafael Nadal
"What can I say to you that hasn’t been told to you by countless others?" Martina Navratilova said.
"But, for me, watching you play, watching you compete for every point as if it is match point, your total and utter commitment to the sport, your professionalism is off the charts. People will be writing books about you so that they can teach others to do what you have done so well for, now almost 20 years," she added.
"So I salute you, I respect you, I love watching you play and I hope you never quit so you can win, maybe 30 Roland Garros titles. Anyway, congratulations." Lionel Messi, meanwhile, has won this award only once (2020) despite being nominated as many times as Rafael Nadal.
The Argentine believes Rafael Nadal 'more than deserved' the Laureus Sportsman of the Year award this time. "Hi Rafa. I just wanted to congratulate you on this award which is obviously more than deserved," Lionel Messi said.
"I would also like to say that you are an example to everyone because of your hard work, your perseverance and for being at the highest level for so many years. And I wanted to send you warm regards."