A doubles-gold return for Nadal

RIO DE JANEIRO • Remember that pained look in Paris?

It was late May and Rafael Nadal was sitting in a news conference with his lips pursed, his eyes full of gloom and his left wrist in a brace as he announced his withdrawal from the French Open, the Grand Slam he had won a record nine times.

Flash forward to Friday, when he was flat on his stomach and feeling nothing but joy after winning an Olympic gold for Spain in men's doubles with Marc Lopez.

"An amazing experience," the Spanish tennis player said. "Especially doing it with one of my best friends, Marc, is something unforgettable for me, for both of us.

"To win a gold medal after 21/2 months with no practice, no preparation at all, just working in the gym, was something not easy doing."

Spain's Rafael Nadal (top) and Marc Lopez reacting after winning the doubles final 6-2, 3-6, 6-4 against Florin Mergea and Horia Tecau of Romania at the Olympic Tennis Centre in Rio de Janeiro. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Nadal and Lopez, close since boyhood, rarely get the chance to play doubles together. But they swept through five matches in Rio and won the gold by holding off a third-set charge from Florin Mergea and Horia Tecau of Romania 6-2, 3-6, 6-4.

Jack Sock and Steve Johnson won bronze for the United States.

Nadal, 30, and Lopez, 34, took the gold with the sort of doubles that Australian Mark Woodforde, who assisted at the medal ceremony, never played in his heyday.

The nimble Spaniards rebooted rallies with lunging defence and towering lobs or finished them off with passing shots on the run or quick poaches from the lone player at the net.

"You don't see this in singles, but Rafa volleys really well, and he moves a lot at the net, puts a lot of pressure," Tecau said.

Nadal admitted that "things have gone really, really well".

So well, in fact, that he rallied to defeat Thomaz Bellucci of Brazil, 2-6, 6-4, 6-2, earlier in the day to reach the singles semi-finals.

There Nadal will face Argentina's Juan Martin del Potro, who beat Spain's Roberto Bautista Agut, 7-5, 7-6 (7-4) in their quarter-final.

Kei Nishikori of Japan will face the defending champion Andy Murray in the other semi-final.

Del Potro should be better rested than Nadal but perhaps not in a better mood.

Nadal is riding the wave in Rio, and even if he falls off the surfboard, he already has another gold to go with the singles gold he won in Beijing in 2008.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on August 14, 2016, with the headline 'A doubles-gold return for Nadal'. Print Edition | Subscribe