“Your Fingers Bleed, and You Enjoy the Suffering”

Novak Djokovic (born May 22, 1987 in Belgrade) embraces Rafael Nadal (March 6, 1986, Manacor, Spain) after the match. Photo by Aaron Favila of the AP.

“Your Fingers Bleed, and You Enjoy the Suffering”
The winner and loser coincide in emphasizing the beauty and intensity of the longest final in Grand Slam history
El País: “Te sangran los dedos y disfrutas del sufrimiento”
J.J. Mateo reporting from Melbourne January 30, 2012

While the drinks were handed out in the dressing room, with bags and more bags of ice arriving to fill the baths in which the tennis players would recuperate, the Serbian Novak Djokovic melted in an emotional embrace with his girlfriend, the beautiful Jelena. The champion took off the gold medal hanging on his neck and, in a sweet gesture, put it on her. “They give the same kind in the Games,” he said to hear in Serbian, as if in the couple’s minds London 2012 were already there.

Nole [Novak’s Spanish nickname, which rhymes with ole] had won his fifth major tournament, his third in succession. He was demolished. Beside him, his agent searched for the Serbian ex-basketball player Vlade Divac, who had lost his credentials [to be in the room], while techno music played in the background in anticipation of the party to come. “I’m ready for all of it,” he said, laughing, while he was directed to the fiesta with the clock already reaching four in the Australian morning: “A tennis player lives for matches like this.”

Rafael Nadal had left the dressing room before Djokovic arrived there. If the measure of a man is how he takes defeat, it’s clear that the Spaniard just not just any other man. “First of all,” he opened, with his emotions still fresh, “Congratulations to Novak and his team, who are doing something fantastic.” “This is one of the happiest defeats of my career,” continued the Mallorcan, pensive and surprisingly positive after losing the final. “I’m not trying to beat Djokovic; I’m trying to exceed myself. During this tournament, I played much better than I did in 2011. This might be the lost final that hurts the least because I did everything I could. I fought with everything I had. I ran as far as I could run. I competed with a player who, today especially, is brilliant. I took him to the limit, something I didn’t do in 2011. The passion, the hope, are here, and when someone has done everything he could, he isn’t obligated to anything more…I’m satisfied with myself. After a time in which I suffered without enjoyment, I enjoyed suffering. That is the path.”

In assessment of his play, Nadal recalls that less than a month ago, he wasn’t even practicing because his shoulder hurt; he arrived in Australia without time to work on the subtle change in the weight of his racquet head; 15 hours before his debut in Melbourne, he was crying in his room because he believed a knee injury would force him to abandon the tournament. A defeat after 5 hours and 53 minutes, after being up a break in the fifth set (4-2 and 30-15), should be a bitter pill to swallow. Nevertheless, he metabolized it in public like it was something positive and put on accent on something that is very much his: enjoying suffering.

“I absolutely agree with him,” noted Djokovic later, albeit with a face marked with strain and a cup within reach. “I’ve never felt anything like it. Everything hurts. You suffer. You try to wake up your legs. You try to push them one more point. Your fingers bleed. It’s already too much, and yet you continue, enjoying the suffering. That’s why I agree with Rafa,” he added. “To play almost six hours is incredible, simply incredible,” he said with surprise. “Hearing that it was the longest final in the history of the major tournaments [5:53] made me cry. I could have won in the fourth set, and Nadal made some serves and some incredible points. The match deserved to go longer. In the fifth set, either one of us could have one,” he continued. “I felt like my energy was dropping, but I knew that he was feeling the same thing as the time passed. I tried to maintain myself mentally. To control my emotions. When I saw I was down 2-4, I pushed my body to the limit. The two of us used all the energy in our bodies, down to the last drop. I believe that the title was decided by a little luck and a little desire. There should have been two champions,” he concluded.

There was only one, and it was Nole, a fearsome competitor and perfect communicator, a tennis player without limits who can dream of winning his own Grand Slam in the spring when he assaults Roland Garros [for the French Open], the only major he doesn’t have. Nadal left the court signing autographs, ready to devour a hot dinner waiting for him in the dressing room and leaving a word of farewell that reflects how he understands sport and life. The clock has already passed 1:30. He took the microphone before the people that packed Rod Laver Court and said, “Thank you for all the love that you have shown us and for supporting me in a match that I won’t forget, even though I lost it. I’m looking forward to returning here for many years and…continuing the fight.”

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