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For the first time in six years, Rafael Nadal retired from a match, trailing 3-0 in the third set.
First, give credit to 23-year-old Damir Dzumhur who outlasted Miami’s muggy heat and improved his career ATP record to 24-27. He’s quick and athletic, even if undersized, but it goes to show the depth on the men’s tour. There are scores of talented players who can take out any of the stars if something isn’t firing right for them.
A couple of things to consider about Nadal’s losing battle in the sluggish heat. Nadal, a player who built his reputation for playing in hot weather, albeit usually drier air, was a player who seemed to get stronger during a grueling clay-court match. It was as if he was soaking in energy from the sun.
There’s no question that his physical skills are no longer fueled by his former youthfulness.
As Nadal turns 30 in early June, it’s fair to wonder if he will retire from the ATP tour before Federer. Is he willing to grind away as it becomes more difficult to recover and win? It doesn’t seem possible that he will be playing at age 34, no matter how fit and strong he is.
It’s more likely that we see Federer still playing at age 39, and like Jimmy Connors in 1991, the Swiss could certainly have more special moments as a contender.
As noted with Federer, be sure to savor those remaining matches that Nadal plays. There will be a few more highlights, but there will be more struggles to remind us of how physical and demanding this sport has become.