Monday, June 6, 2011

Faith in Fighting

Rafael Nadal's 6th French Open title was all about attitude. Because he stayed positive, he peaked at the right time.

There was an air of defeatism in Roger Federer's body language when Rafael Nadal dialed up his game at the end of yesterday's first set. And who could blame him? It was the French Open final and Federer looked to be cruising to an early lead when Nadal summoned his inner Tasmanian Devil. Suddenly Nadal was a hot-blooded animal in search of its prey. Bam! Just like that the Spaniard was up a set and a break, and looking for more.

Nadal's shift from 0 to 60 was so definitive it should have come with an explosion. And it wasn't purely physical, either. It was something more omniscient, more imperious. The wires connecting the desire and the strokes were sizzling. Nadal played with the swagger of a man who knew he had no reason to doubt. As good as Federer was playing, there was a feeling that he'd have to do it for an impossibly long time and an impossibly high level to deny Nadal the crown.

"It's a big satisfaction," said Nadal, "to win the tournament, especially when you started without playing your best. My mind was open to change the situation, so that makes the victory probably more special."

That's the essence of Nadal. He's got the implicit understanding of how important his attitude is to the bigger picture. And you get the feeling he practices his mental approach almost as much as he practices his devastating ground strokes. It's a simple element of his game, one that often gets overshadowed by his pulsating on-court persona, but Nadal's attitude might be the key ingredient to his now undeniable greatness.

"What I said one week ago is that I'm going to put everything to try and change the situation, to try and to play better," said Nadal. "That's what I did. I tried my best in every moment with the right attitude all the time, so finally I was able to play my best when I needed my best."

Nadal's physical prowess is well-documented, and the way he's revolutionized tennis with mind-bending topspin strokes is too, but it's Nadal's faith in good old-fashioned commitment -- both mentally and spiritually -- that functions as the engine that fuels his success. Think about it: can anybody spur himself to elevated tennis like Nadal can?

Nobody could in Paris, that's for sure.

Yesterday, Nadal reached the rarefied air that previously only Bjorn Borg had held at Roland Garros. With his 7-5, 7-6 (3), 5-7, 6-1 victory over Roger Federer, Nadal is now looking at another banner year, and he doesn't appear satisfied in the least.

Because yesterday's final was similar to his previous 4 victories over Roger Federer at Roland Garros, it felt somewhat routine, but the implications were anything but. With the milestone victory, Nadal becomes the second-youngest man in tennis history to win his 10th Grand Slam (Almost a year behind Borg but 173 days ahead of Federer, who is 3rd) and the 2nd man (along with Borg) to hold 6 French Open titles.

It forces us to consider the question: If Roger Federer is considered as a GOAT (greatest of all time) candidate, then mustn't we also automatically consider Nadal for the same lofty standing in the tennis hierarchy? The Spaniard has kept Federer at bay regularly since 2008 (4-0 in Grand Slam finals and 9-2 overall), and also managed to win 10 out of 12 Grand Slam finals over the course of his career, including the last 4 in just over a year.

It may take time, but even if Nadal's pace of world-beating slows, he'll surely be knocking at Sampras' and Federer's door in terms of total Slams won at some point. Unless Djokovic becomes Nadal's kryptonite the way that Nadal has become Federer's, there is seemingly no reason (other than loss of interest -- dream on -- or injury) that Nadal shouldn't win more Slams. If he does, the mystique quotient surrounding Rafa will only grow.

So here we are, at yet another precipice in the tennis season as well as a pivotal point of tennis history as we know it. What will become of Nadal in the next few years? Is there room for him to improve or even maintain this pace? Can anything or anybody put a dent in the giant bucket of confidence that he brings to the court at each and every Grand Slam?

As we learned from Federer's magical victory over Djokovic at the French, nothing is out of the realm of possibilities. And as we also learned from Federer, total domination for an extended period of time is one of those possibilities.

With Nadal's positive attitude and core of belief firmly anchoring his scintillating tennis, his boldest strokes may have yet to come.


  1. Fine article. Right on the money. Well said. Is it me or did Fed look like he shed one tear before the last set was over? I try not to dwell on his crying thing or Andy's.... but for the love of God, these are grown men we are talking about. Just cry later, at home.

  2. I think the sweetest emotion of the day was during the Spanish National Anthem. Those live shots of Rafa and his family were pretty sweet.

  3. Bingo. What is so amazing about Nadal is his mental toughness, fortitude, and focus. It's wonderful to watch and draw inspiration from. After the match he said something like how he tries to remain open, positive, and work on improving when he's not playing well. Boy, does he ever. That said, I sure hope he doesn't let Nole become his "kryptonite" as you aptly put it!


Leave your two cents here!