Tennis Identity PROfiles: Rafael Nadal
There are certain eras in sports that produce the best that ever was (up to that point) at that sport. Examples? Baseball’s Babe Ruth in the 1920s and 1930s, and Willie Mays in the 1950s and 1960s. Golf’s Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer in the 1950s-1980s. Basketball’s Michael Jordan in the 1980s and 1990s.
And here we are, still in the Golden Age of Tennis. Since the early 2000s, we’ve been privileged to see three of the biggest men’s names ever to take the court: Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer, and Rafael Nadal. Among women, Serena Williams is, of course, queen. In terms of who is the “best” ever tennis player, that’s a subjective thing for many fans. Largely, though, the “best” is determined by the number of Slams you’ve won- and Federer takes that prize.
But as we’re in the French Open, you might want to look at the “best” title a different way. Who’s the “best” on clay? Who’s the most dominant? Björn Borg won six titles in Paris from 1974-1981, including a stretch of four straight 1978-1981. Yet clay can be the great equalizer, frustrating the games of players whose style is suited to other surfaces. Jimmy Connors and John McEnroe never won here, for example.
Which takes us to Rafa Nadal. While his home is in Spain, he has another home and it’s on the courts of Roland Garros. Look at the numbers; they’re staggering. He has won this title an amazing nine times. (In 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014.) Look at that! If he had won in 2009, that would be an astounding ten straight titles. With Fed taking the clay season off, Murray in uncertain territory and Djokovic on the rebound, Nadal is the clear favorite, especially after destroying almost everyone on clay this spring.
The other thing to note about Rafa Nadal is his measure of humility and graciousness on and off the court, similar to his pal and frequent opponent Federer. Have you ever seen Nadal blow up on the court? Ever seen him rip a reporter apart at a presser? How about a huge Nadal scandal headline on a British tabloid? His self-deprecating comments and personality quirks have endeared him to fans all over the world. There is a childlike innocence to his post-match comments- he simply states the facts without much embellishment. A true class act in every sense of the word.
The glory is being happy. The glory is not winning here or winning there. The glory is enjoying practicing, enjoy every day, enjoying to work hard, trying to be a better player than before. -RN
(And while we’re on the subject of Nadal, let’s look at his equipment, ’cause that’s what we do here. Wouldn’t it be jarring to see him on the court in something other than Nike, wielding a frame other than Babolat? Again, just like Federer. It’s just not something we can imagine. Remember how weird Agassi looked when he signed with adidas because Nike wouldn’t help him fund his academy or whatever? And because of Steffi? Yeah, it’s like that. And let’s not forget his
expensive cool taste in watches.)
Here’s his latest timepiece:
Nadal may very well indeed plow through the field and hold La Coupe des Mousquetaires for a 10th time. And remember he’s just 30 years old, with his 31st coming up on June 3rd. Enjoy this performance by the master of clay while you can- for we may never see such a player again. Oh, and there is one thing he can’t do with a tennis racquet.
I’m ambidextrous when I eat. But playing tennis right-handed – I can’t do it. I’m clueless. -RN
*Quotes via BrainyQuote.com *Images via Nike