"I tried my best during the last two weeks, today was not possible..." the iconic Rafael Nadal said during his short speech after losing to Taylor Fritz at the Indian Wells final. The Spaniard against the American was the apex of tennis.
Both were well spent on energy and belief coming into the 'Desert' final. But for Nadal, a loss is still time well spent on the hardcourt to start the season. The Indian Wells semifinal with an all-Spaniard matchup was the sensation and rave.
The prolific vs. the teen prodigy were ready to pair off a second time to see who could become the winner. Nadal had first time meetup with the teen at last year's Madrid Open. The mature Spaniard showed his proof by a straight set 6-1, 6-2 win.
Here they were again pitted against each other at the Indian Wells semifinal. It was a smash, bang out match where both played at the top of their competitive tennis levels. Nadal was facing a more strategically sound Alcatraz than a year ago and he felt the difference tremendously.
"I was playing well at the beginning but it was just so difficult to stop him with his amazing shots," Nadal shook his head explaining. The 'King of Clay' won the first set 6-4 but what led later was a brutal punishment.
The second set with Nadal and Alcaraz fighting not only each other but the wind gusts. Towels and cups, anything not tightened down blew around the court stadium. "The conditions became crazy," Rafa laughed when explaining his on court situation.
He had 17 break chances but was only able to convert 3. Then there was a 20-minute 9th game in the mix causing more complexities to the match. "After that I can't say I was in control," Nadal admitted. He had lost the set 4-6 but the deciding one was a thriller with both not wanting to lose as they played high energy tennis.
Much drama and fluency in the last set had Nadal using his volleying skills to win points. Alcaraz followed back with rallying at a fast pace trying to open up the court for his points of glory. Rafa proved the winner at 6-4, 4-6, 6-3 but at what course of pain and suffering.
"I have problem to breathe. I don't know if it's something on the rib, I don't know yet...when I'm moving it's like a needle all the time inside..." The pain deep within his chest was the major issue but he had to go on and face Taylor Fritz for the championship round which he wasn't in a healthy position to feel positive.
Fritz suffered also but with an injured ankle in his match the day before with Andrey Rublev. He too wasn't able to feel like going on. Taylor Fritz had more energy and strategies in his tank than Nadal and was able to win in straight sets 6-3, 7-5 to get a victory over Nadal and to capture his first Indian Wells title.
"It's an honor to even be on the same court. I grew up watching this guy," Fritz smiled and looked over his shoulder at Rafa. The Spaniard could only crack a small smile for he was physically and mentally aching.
If the semifinal was the 'Desert' final, Nadal would have felt more accomplished but it wasn't. There was talk at the award presentation of both players being welcomed back next year. Nadal gave a coy smile saying "Hopefully I can keep coming for the next couple of years..."
He had said to the media that "I will fight till the end..." but who's to say how long and where the end will be for Rafael Nadal -- even he doesn't know.