When Rafael Nadal announced on Thursday that injury would prevent him from participating in this year's French Open for the first time in 19 years, it brought back bitter sweet memories for Lars Bergsmuller, his first opponent at Roland Garros.
In 2005, when Nadal's remarkable 14 titles on Parisian soil were still in the future, the German faced the Mallorca native in the first round.
Bergsmuller, then aged 29 and world no. 96, lost 6–1, 7–6, 6–1, but pushed 18-year-old Nadal to a tiebreak in the second set.
The German, who played Nadal just a year earlier in Indian Wells when he was just 17, losing 6-2, 6-3, told AFP he was “not so enthusiastic” when he Find out who he will face.
“Let's just say I've heard from all over that she's the next big thing,” Bergsmuller, 47, said from his home in Essen, where he now works as a radiologist.
“Obviously, in such a big tournament you expect an easy draw, especially at the start.
“The moment I lost the match, you can see why I wasn't so excited.”
The German said that while he was disappointed with the result at the time, he realized that he was looking to create something special.
“You have to accept without envy that he somehow plays in another league,” Bergsmuller said.
He counts the memory of his matches against Roger Federer as well as his Wimbledon clash with Andre Agassi as career highlights, along with his win at the ATP event in Copenhagen 2002.
In the 17 years since their meeting, Nadal captured those record 14 French Open titles and lost only three of 115 matches.
Although convinced of the Spaniard's talent, he acknowledges that Nadal won the tournament on his first attempt.
“I thought he was playing well and had a great future, but to go from 0 to 100 so quickly and win the French Open, I honestly didn't expect that.
“I don't know whether he expected it himself or someone else did.”
– ‘full throttle' –
Bergsmuller said that Nadal “gave full throttle” from start to finish in their match.
“It doesn't matter whether it's 0:0 or later… He plays the first ball the same way as the last.
“You think you have to win every rally three times to get the point.
“I caught myself in moments where I thought ‘Okay, I've got the point', and then somehow he gets it to you – and it really hurts you.
“That's his strength, even from tough situations in the corners to hit great balls anywhere on the court.”
– ‘Beyond the Pain Barrier' –
Nadal's powerful game has propelled him to a record 22 Grand Slam titles, equal with novak djokovic, but it has also taken a punishing effect on his body.
The Spaniard told reporters on Thursday that his inability to recover from a hip injury in time for the French Open was “not a decision I made, it was a decision made by my body.”
“I need to stay for a while.”
Like Nadal, Bergsmuller too struggled with injuries in his career and observed how the Spaniard faced setbacks along the way.
As a doctor, Bergsmuller said “you can certainly say it doesn't make sense” to play through the pain of an injury, but it was “ultimately up to the athlete to decide”.
Bergsmuller said he expected Nadal to add to his French Open total in his final appearance next year, but the ongoing effects of injuries put him out of reach.
“It's not nice to see someone who is somehow battered and injured, who needs to push themselves beyond the pain barrier — someone who might as well give up or even compete.
“Two weeks of a Grand Slam is already incredibly tiring for the body.”
DVI / GJ