NADAL & NOVAK!
Rafa isn’t even thinking about the handshake until he’s already at the net — he won, he won, he won the US Open and his knees don’t hurt any more than usual and maybe it was almost worth seven months of thinking he’d never play like this again — and Novak is waiting for him with his arms half-open, determined and tentative at the same time. It can’t be a handshake now; Nole already made the decision for both of them, and thank God, because he’s the only one with the right. Nole’s the one who lost, so he gets to decide how this goes. It’s not a surprise, really. He’s always been more generous than Rafa and they both know it, knew it even before the year when Novak kept winning and Rafa kept deciding to step further and further back.
Novak’s arms are loose but his hands are hot on Rafa’s back even through his sweat-soaked shirt, and Rafa spreads his palm against Novak’s side without conscious thought. The blood is still pounding in his ears so loudly — he won the US Open — that he can barely hear what Nole is whispering in his ear. For a second Rafa lets himself be selfish, half-forgets that he was the one who decided to end things and half-prays that Novak will decide to reverse his decision. He drops his forehead against Nole’s shoulder.
The moment is over, and they both have more handshakes to make, press conferences and interviews and hopefully a chance to shower and change into dry clothing soon. Rafa follows Novak up to the umpire’s chair, ears ringing with the noise of the crowd. He still isn’t sure what Novak said to him, if it was you deserve this or I miss you or something else entirely. He knows which one he’ll say it was if someone asks in press — they will, he thinks resignedly; they always do — but it doesn’t matter, really. Words never meant much to either of them.
He won the US Open. He made his decision two years ago, and now it’s Novak’s turn. That’s all right. Rafa learned more than he thought he would in seven months without tennis; now he knows how to wait.