2017 will belong to Rafael Nadal

Anindya Dutta Roar Guru

By Anindya Dutta, Anindya Dutta is a Roar Guru

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    Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal are two of the modern day greats. (AAP Image/Martin Philbey)

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    He is 30 years old, an age when many men in his sport are just peaking.

    He has a career Grand Slam, ATP Tour and Davis Cup combined record of 806-173, an astonishing 82 per cent win record over a career spanning 16 years, and 69 career titles to show for his efforts.

    He has won 14 Grand Slam singles titles, an Olympic Gold, four Davis Cup titles, and is third on the all-time list in tennis earnings.

    And yet, quite amazingly, his sporting obituary has already been written more often than for any tennis player in living memory.

    He is Rafael Nadal.

    This is what Roger Federer said in Perth on Monday when asked about who is the toughest opponent he has ever had to face.

    “Yes, I would have to pick Rafa Nadal. I think the way he played – and plays – against me has always been extremely difficult for me. His fighting spirit and his professionalism that he brings to the game… I really enjoy watching him and it’s been tough against him. Every match I won against him almost counted double for me.”

    Rafa Nadal is a once-in-a-generation phenomenon.

    Rafael Nadal

    Even if the sobriquet attached to him is borderline insulting, given the sublime genius that he is with a Babolat in his left hand and an unquenchable thirst to win in every pore on every court, the ‘King of Clay’, will take it, just as long as it’s accompanied by the No.10 inscribed at the back of his tennis shoes, as he holds up the Roland Garros trophy this year.

    He is special not only because he puts 100 per cent of his battered body on the line every time, and uses his divinely gifted abilities to rise above the best, but above all, for his mental strength.

    As Vijay Amritraj once told me during an unforgettable free flowing discussion on tennis greats through the ages, “Rafa’s real strength is between his ears. It doesn’t matter how well his opponent is playing. Rafa can still beat him through sheer mental toughness and desire to win. All he needs to ensure is that in abusing his body like he does, he doesn’t eventually end up in a wheelchair.”

    And that last sentence explains the premature sporting obituaries.

    Rafa pushes his body to its natural limits, and often, well beyond it.

    That unbelievable return, that superhuman lunge, that brutal down the line passing shot, that delicate volley at the net, followed by that impossible drop shot that hits the corner and canters away into the crowd – it’s all of these that make up Rafael Nadal.

    And all the time, those damaged knees are pounding away the miles around the court.

    When the knees are patched up and holding up to the abuse, his wrists give up from being subjected to those impossible forehand angles that he returns the ball from.

    He can’t help it, because as Rafa said recently, “I created a lot of damage with my forehands. That has been one of my main goals in these past couple of seasons – to rediscover my forehand. When I am hitting my forehands, I feel in control of the points.”

    At the Mubadala World Tennis Championship in Abu Dhabi last weekend, Nadal was back hitting those forehands.

    He beat Berdych in the quarters, Raonic in the semis and Goffin in the finals.

    All in straight sets.

    And the final point of the Championship was a scorching forehand winner.

    The Abu Dhabi event is an exhibition event, but the intensity has always been at the highest level. It also has a special significance for Rafa.

    He has won four of them – 2010, 2011, 2016 and 2017 (assuming an early Jan end for each tournament).

    But the closest parallel is with 2010.

    In 2009, Rafa pulled out midway through the quarters against Andy Murray at the Australian Open, then lost to Robin Soderling in the fourth round of the French, obviously playing with a lot of pain. It was the tendinitis in both knees that was the problem.

    He stayed away for much of the year and came back to win Abu Dhabi in January 2010.

    That year, Nadal also won the French Open, Wimbledon and the US Open.

    In 2016, Nadal lost in the first round of the Australian Open to Fernando Verdasco in five gruelling sets, and at the end he could barely hold his racquet.

    He struggled through a few more tournaments and went into the French Open with a lot of hope for his fans. But behind the smile, he was hurting. Finally, before the third round, he was forced to withdraw from the French Open admitting his wrist was giving up.

    The fact that he came back for the Olympics, got to the semis of the singles and won the Gold in the doubles, has much more to do with his absolute dedication to his country than with his recovery.

    Injury. Australian Open, French Open, Abu Dhabi Championship.

    That is a sequence of events that Rafa’s opponents would do well to pay a lot of attention to.

    And if you are a Rafael Nadal fan (as I unabashedly am), you have to believe that seven years on, the stars are all perfectly aligned for a repeat of 2010.

    Paris, London and New York beckon for Rafael Nadal.

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    The Crowd Says (36)

    • January 4th 2017 @ 9:12am
      New guy said | January 4th 2017 @ 9:12am | ! Report

      He is not a once in a generation phenomenon. How can you say that when he is part of the same generation as federer, Djokovic and Murray ?

      • Roar Guru

        January 4th 2017 @ 9:28am
        Anindya Dutta said | January 4th 2017 @ 9:28am | ! Report

        They are all different kinds of players with different strengths. His strength is more mental than physical unlike Djokovic for example. So to me Nadal, Federer and Djokovic are all unique and players that arise once in a generation. We are extremely lucky to have had 3 such players emerge (along with Murray, who to me is a notch lower in terms of talent), at around the same time.

    • January 4th 2017 @ 11:05am
      Barbara Ball said | January 4th 2017 @ 11:05am | ! Report

      Thank you for this beautiful piece on Rafa. I love everything about this young man and you captured his story perfectly. I so want him healthy so he can compete. A healthy Rafa is a dangerous player always.

      • Roar Guru

        January 4th 2017 @ 11:42am
        Anindya Dutta said | January 4th 2017 @ 11:42am | ! Report

        Thank you so much a Barbara. Really glad you liked it. When he is healthy, he is a delight to watch. And he has defined what it is to be a true sporting gentleman while being at the top of your sport. That’s for me has immeasurable value. I truly want him to come back and win a few Grand Slams and make us smile!

    • January 4th 2017 @ 12:51pm
      Navdeep said | January 4th 2017 @ 12:51pm | ! Report

      Truly a masterpiece Annanya. You have touched every cord and every phases of his life. Let’s hope our champ plays awesome tennis and add more glory to his already glorious achievements

      • Roar Guru

        January 4th 2017 @ 1:46pm
        Anindya Dutta said | January 4th 2017 @ 1:46pm | ! Report

        Thanks Navdeep! So glad you enjoyed it. Anindya

    • January 4th 2017 @ 1:12pm
      Venkat said | January 4th 2017 @ 1:12pm | ! Report

      Superbly penned..you made my day, mate..only wish, hope amd pray that what he has between his ears will overcome what he does not have within his knees…body abuse, yes, and selfish as it may sound, I love him precisely because of that….
      Looking forward to more such, buddy..

      • Roar Guru

        January 4th 2017 @ 1:19pm
        Anindya Dutta said | January 4th 2017 @ 1:19pm | ! Report

        Thanks so much Venkat! He is back, Federer is back. I am hoping 2017 will be the year when Men’s tennis once again reaches its dizzying heights we were used to in the Fed-Rafa peak era. And of course, Rafa comes out on top!

    • January 4th 2017 @ 1:17pm
      matth said | January 4th 2017 @ 1:17pm | ! Report

      It will all come down to the knees unfortunately. I hope he can hold together because, like Federer, it has been a privilege to watch Rafa, and there won;t be another one like him for a long long time.

      • Roar Guru

        January 4th 2017 @ 1:20pm
        Anindya Dutta said | January 4th 2017 @ 1:20pm | ! Report

        Thats my hope @matth. That he is good for a few last hurrahs. As I replied to @Venkat, having Federer and Rafa back and hopefully on song this year, will be the stuff Tennis dreams are made of.

    • January 4th 2017 @ 2:55pm
      soma sundaram vedula said | January 4th 2017 @ 2:55pm | ! Report

      Excellent article..I would love to see Rafa back with atleast one major this year..Pro.Djo faction would sayFederer didn’t have the competition and thus Djokovic’s current run — against Nadal, Federer and Andy Murray — is far more impressive. Fed fans will say Djokovic is doing this against an equally weak field, given that Nadal is in the midst of the worst slump (he better hope it’s a slump) of his career, Federer is an ancient 35 and Murray has three Slams which hardly makes him Bjorn Borg……

      • Roar Guru

        January 4th 2017 @ 5:58pm
        Anindya Dutta said | January 4th 2017 @ 5:58pm | ! Report

        Thanks Soma! Well said indeed! Vamos Rafa!

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