Felicitaciones, Nadal: A man and his 16 Grand Slams
A feat like Rafa’s will probably never be replicated, but somehow he manages to stay grounded and comes off as incredibly humble. It is Nadal’s sheer perseverance and tenacity that won him all the titles in the world writes Ananya Das.
"I am not a person who thinks about what I achieved or what I didn't achieve. I am a person who tries to enjoy the moment. That's what I do." Almost a decade ago, Rafael Nadal had one of the finest years of his life back in 2008. He had won the French Open again, four times in a row, followed by the Wimbledon title against his fierce rival Roger Federer in the longest Wimbledon final and finished his year off with an Olympic gold medal. All of this, almost ten years ago and all the 10-year-old Nadal fans are now 20, wondering how this man keeps getting better with time and how the same feeling of pride and joy persists, still.
Rafa's journey of becoming one of the best tennis players in the world started at home where both his uncles were heavily involved in sports. His uncle, Toni Nadal was a professional tennis player and his other uncle Miguel Nadal was an extremely famous footballer who played for Mallorca and Barcelona. Seeing how his family's affinity for sports was so strong, Rafa was determined to have the same connection to sports, and he did. He started playing at the age of 8 and won the regional under-12 tournament, this was his first big victory and rest is mere history. The trophies never stopped coming; at 12, he won the Spanish and European Championship in his age group and turned pro at the age of 15, and by 17, he beat Roger Federer when the Swiss legend was 22. When the long-haired Spaniard with a goofy grin stepped onto the court to play his first Roland Garros back in 2005, Carlos Moya, former world number one and Nadal's current coach predicted that this kid will be the very future of tennis.
One of the prime reasons why Nadal is able to create an atmosphere of fear and dread around his game play is because of his impeccable time management whilst on court. When his uncle was still training him initially, he noticed Rafa's ambidexterity and immediately formulated a plan that would enable him to rule the roost -- he trained him to play with his left hand only giving him the biggest advantage over right handed players. Almost 85 per cent of all tennis players are right handed. By the time the Spaniard was playing as a pro, Roger Federer was already one of the most famous players having won the Milan Indoors and had just defeated Pete Sampras in Wimbledon. How do you compete with that kind of pressure? To come into one of the most cutthroat sports in the world and stand tall against the best players is not an easy feat to achieve by a mere 15-year-old, but Rafa did that effortlessly.
Nadal's mental and physical agility doesn't come off as surprising and he showcases an incredible skill set when it comes to his cross-court forehands that cheekily speaks to the opponent and says 'I am here to stay in the game'. That is it; just one shot and the whole world knows that this man means business. His forehand shots can put the fiercest backhands to shame and create a gigantic problem for top ticket players like Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic. But the thing here is that almost everyone knows how Nadal plays and how he's one of the best players in the world right now and partly it is because of the fact that he is talented beyond measure and his hard-work is crystal clear on the court but that is not the only thing that helps him through.
If we try and put things in perspective, had Rafael Nadal overcome Robin Soderling in 2009, he would have won 10 consecutive French Open titles. That is winning one of the biggest titles in the world ten times. How many people have come close to that number? Not many. The fact of the matter is that Rafa is beyond numbers and stats. Through his career threatening injuries to his shoulder and foot, he has emerged as a better player, not because of medical miracles but because his passion for tennis touches a parameter that doesn't even really exist for mortal beings. His ability to turn from a sudden defensive position to an attacking one mesmerises those who watch him live, be it on court or on television. His attitude throughout his career has changed from being a young child-like player to a mature and unbreakable sportsman. When he won his 10th French Open title without dropping a set, he said, "As I like to say, if I can do it, someone else can do it. I don't like to think of myself as someone special." A feat like Rafa's will probably never be replicated but somehow he manages to stay grounded and comes off as incredibly humble.
I like to believe that some people are just meant to achieve unparalleled greatness. Though I'd believe that this was just natural selection by the world of tennis, it was Nadal's sheer perseverance and tenacity that won him all the titles in the world. The 2017 US Open was no different and mostly felt like a formality because of the easy draws he got. Although Kevin Anderson gave a spirited performance, he undoubtedly fell short in front of Rafael Nadal as he won 6-3 6-3 6-4. The beaten finalist later said, "He never goes away. You know, I have seen so many times where he's maybe down a break and he's able to play every single point at such a high intensity."