The greatness of Rafael Nadal

Photo credit: Sky Sports

We have heard about Rovo’s Nadal in the previous post – about his passion for the sport, his sporting values, and his respect for Rafael Nadal. In this article we cover the life of the man behind the man, dissected into the most significant milestones in his career, and what his supreme achievements mean for humanity.

I’m his No. 1 fan, I think his game is simply tremendous. He’s an incredible competitor and I’m happy we’ve had some epic battles in the past- Roger Federer

Without further ado, let's take a look at the milestones and breakthroughs attained by the man from Majorca - the attitude and achievements of whom are so impressive, they have earned him the number one spot on Federer's fan list.

An impressive ATP 1000 debut (2003)

In the 2003 Monte Carlo Masters mens' singles, Rafael Nadal reached the round of 16, losing to Guillermo Coria in that round 6-7 2-6. Such an 'achievement' may not be noteworthy enough to deserve its place on this place on this blog post, given his ability to consistently reach beyond the quarterfinals in such major tournaments (not to mention his numerous grands slam and ATP Masters wins). However such endeavor is noteworthy given the year in which it occurred - it is 2003 and Nadal (if the law of nature applies) should not have been mature enough to go so far into the tournament. Being 16 years and 10 months at the time of such happening, he became the youngest man to break into the top 100 since Michael Chang in 1988, with such a run. Michael Chang, although left behind in the dustbin of tennis history due to his lack of grand slam wins, was famous for being the youngest grand slam winner at the age of 17. More spectacular than this deep-run spectacle, was his win over Albert Costa in the round of 32. Who is this unfamiliar-sounding bloke, one may ask, and what makes the beating of him by the young gun of 16 so... spectacular? Albert Costa entered the tournament seeded number 4 (well, what a feat for an unseeded teen to beat a top seed in straight sets), but more importantly he was the reigning Rolland Garros champion! In spite of the anti-climax that shamefully followed in the following match of Nadal's - 21 year old Guillermo Coria's beating of Nadal in straight sets - such deep run in an ATP 1000 masters for a debutante, and more importantly the groundbreaking victory over Costa, portends deeply the age of tennis that the young Spainard would play an invaluable and major part in shaping.

I've known Rafael since he was 10 and day after day he keeps impressing me more and more,- Carlos Moya

As long as the work ethnic as mentioned by our #featuredplayer Terry Hamilton Ng never ceases, and his health permits, we will like Moya, be continually impressed by Nadal.

The first clash with Federer (2004)

"I've heard a lot about him and I think this is not a surprise to anybody,- Roger Federer

A week before the fateful clash that that took place on a tennis court in Miami which shook the world, Federer predicted that Nadal would succeed him as world number 1 in three years time. He fell short of his prediction by one year. In the same fashion by which other tennis legends (such as what Federer did to Sampras in the 2001 Wimbledon quarterfinals, or Djokovic to Federer in Montreal 2007) announced their coming onto the world stage, Nadal pulled off an upset over the reigning tennis great (although this may be a massive understatement of a description) Roger Federer. In this even more shining and portentous sequel to the magnificent demonstration of supreme athletic preciousness, the still relatively unknown teenager trounced the then-only 2 time grand slam champion Roger Federer. This match is significant not for any particular achievement of Rafael Nadal's (I mean, his talent for upsets has long been known before this great one), but for the fact that such emergence of Nadal also marks the dawn of a new age of tennis, an age of tennis conventionally deemed by critics and fans alike to be the greatest ever in the history of game. From then on, dominance in the mens' professional tennis game took on a whole new meaning, as dominance meant the spoils of war, for slightly over a decade and running, get carved up by only less-then-a-handful of a number of men. It marked the start of this exciting age wherein the top 3 tennis legends with the most grand slam titles get crammed within the same tennis generation (Roger Federer is technically not part of that generation but would be treated as so given his unusual longevity). With such dense concentration of the best tennis talents in history so far, there would not be anything if fireworks do not erupt.

His first Grand Slam at Rolland Garros (2005)

Photo credit: Tennis Buzz

"I played with my best head and my best tennis. He played unbelievably and there were times when I thought I might lose,- Rafael Nadal

In what felt like a repetition of history to the people of the tennis world with an eye for the history for the sport, Nadal clinched the French Open mens' singles championship at the tender age of 18. 'Tennis champions' cannot fail but to hark back in their minds to the same occasion 31 years ago, when the equally young albeit less legendary Björn Borg (Borg was 18 years old at the day of that victory) conquered the clay and embedded his name in the annals of tennis history. Such glorious parallels being present notwithstanding, one also cannot fail to think of a similar occasion in 1989, when Michael Chang won the French Open at the age of 17. The difference between these 2 historical examples lies not in the moments of those victories (they both portend greatness) but in the follow-up from such portending. The win by Björn Borg of Rolland Garros in 1974 was one of a 6 - the match that marked the start of the Borg era in the history of Rolland Garros, one may say in hindsight. The win by Michael Chang of Rolland Garros in 1989 was one of one - a match which seemed like an ironic mocking by Destiny of Michael, given the massive mismatch between the immense shot of promise and the long relatively period of un-achieving in years we are supposed to see the realizations of the promise. Would Nadal's story be one of a tennis legend establishing a dynasty, or would he eventually suffer the ignominy of the label "the one-slam wonder"? As we now know, this victory did not just mark the start of a Rolland Garros dynasty - it marked the start of The Rolland Garros dynasty. It is a Rolland Garros dynasty, the strength and duration of which, will not be surpass-able ever by anyone by any stretch of one's imagination.

His victory at the epic of epic finals: (Wimbledon 2008)

Photo credit: The Age

"I'm very, very happy. It is a dream to play on this court, my favourite tournament, but I never imagined this,- Rafael Nadal

Nadal was not being unrealistic when he expressed that assumption of his (assuming that it is not the usual perfunctory display of modesty). In theory, the odds are entrenched strongly against Nadal's favor in a grass court match against Federer. The grass surface is notoriously disadvantageous for players who like to hit or receive high-bouncing 'spin shots', as the balls travel low and fast. Nadal is amongst all the recognizable professional tennis players, the paragon of such playing stye - his prowess on the tennis court may show on clay and hard, but the grass should stop him. On the other hand, Federer who is the complete opposite of Nadal in playing style, should by this right be the kind of player who is most suited for grass. His 5 straight Wimbledon titles prior to that encounter is testament to that. But as we all know, the very theoretical odds do not determine actual outcomes. The human will, if strongly exerted enough, triumphs all. What Nadal lacked in natural ability and court favor, he made up with greater hard work and a harder iron will, on and off the court (in the time before the match). The signs were showing long before the encounter (Nadal took Federer to five sets during the 2007 Wimbledon finals), but due to some technically unlabeled law of inertia that afflicts human beings, almost no one was prepared for the moment when the tidal wave came. Incidentally, by winning the 2008 Wimbledon finals, Nadal became the third man since Björn Borg and Rod Laver to win the Rolland Garros and Wimbledon slams back-to-back. Amongst the numerous statistical significances of this match for both Nadal and the history, there are two which are relevant for this article. The first of such would be that Nadal overtook Federer in the ATP rankings, becoming world number one and ending Federer's 237-week long streak as the world's best tennis player (speaking of ATP ranking). Lastly and more importantly, it established Nadal as a master of a surface other than clay. By dint of defying the beliefs of critics, himself and almost everyone else, this achievement has become a significant milestone of Nadal's career in its own right.

Resurgence (2017)

Photo credit: The Telegraph

"The thing is, Rafa’s always been unbelievable at comebacks. He’s one of the guys who’s done it the best and the most almost. Every time he came back, he was always in the mix again to win big tournaments and be really, really difficult to beat and be one of the favorites, even on his weaker surfaces,- Roger Federer

Whenever we think of a comeback artist in tennis, we think of Novak Djokovic. We admire and are awed by his ability to snatch life out of the grim reaper, whenever it stares it in the face, and turn the match around as if his elixir - counter-intuitive as it may seem - is death itself. While the subject of such daredevil stunts of Djokovic's may almost always occupy the mind of someone whenever the word 'comeback' is though of in the tennis context, there is another kind of comeback in professional tennis which despite its lack of showiness, is not less deserving of awe and admiration. Such a comeback can only be appreciated in hindsight, as it is a process, not a moment, that spans a time of anything from 4 months to 2 years. Who more apt to be the one undertaking this gritty comeback than the king of grit in the world of mens' professional tennis - Rafael Nadal. Nadal has had numerous comebacks throughout his career, each becoming more remarkable than the previous. In 2009, Nadal came back from a bout of tendinitis (which forced him to forgo participation in the Wimbledon championships of that year) to reach the semifinals of the 2009 US Open championships. Towards the end of 2012, he suffered a more consequential and longer of bout of tendinitis, followed by a stomach infection, which forced him to withdraw from the 2012 Olympics, 2012 US Open championships and the 2013 Australian Open championships! Recovering from such soul-sapping strains he won the Indian Wells Masters, Rolland Garros and the US Open that year. Surpassing all other comebacks in magnificence however, is his comeback in 2017.

Photo credit: Daily Mail

"Not much more I can do right now, other than accept the situation and, as always in my case, work hard in order to be able to compete at the highest level once I am back,- Rafael Nadal

It is remarkable for an insanely long period of injury and then bad form (which i can imagine is something which would drive Nadal nuts, given his standards...), from late 2014 to the end of 2016. Things went downhill for Nadal after the 2014 Wimbledon championships - a wrist injury (which forced a withdrawal from the US Open championships of that year) was followed by appendicitis during the 2014 Shanghai Rolex Masters (which resulted in his loss to Feliciano Lopez in the opening round of that tournament), followed with a problem with the appendix (which caused an early exit in the Swiss indoors by teenager Boran Coric, and also his decision to skip the rest of the season to undergo surgery.) Nadal was in action pretty much the entire time from 2015 to 2016, but bad form took the place of the surgery, and following out-of-the-norm losses to Berdych and Djokovic in the 2015 Australian Open quarterfinals and 2015 Rolland Garros quarterfinals respectively, he failed to reach the quarterfinals of every grand slam he played from the 2015 Wimbledon championships to the 2016 US open championships. Having been dragged into such soul-sapping straits, Pete Sampas would have gotten the cue that his time was up (a cue which would be very much crafted by himself as Nadal's example would have exposed) and retired; Björn Borg would have declared burnout and retired. Nadal would beg to differ, and being true to his recitation of the immortal words

'If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same'

in what was probably a promotional Wimbledon video, he struggled on. He fought on and endured the grind with the level of intensity and devotion that he would have given to his cause in the times of plenty and health. Hence his amazing comeback in 2017, with his reaching of the 2017 Australian Open finals and the winning of his La Decima at the Rolland Garros of that year, is a milestone of his career immensely significant for him and us all, it being such a powerful hymn to the power of the human will.

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