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Illustrious career of tennis great, Rafa Nadal

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Spain’s Rafael Nadal returns the ball to Germany’s Maximilian Marterer during their men’s singles fourth round match on day nine of The Roland Garros 2018 French Open tennis tournament in Paris on June 4, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / Eric FEFERBERG


Rafa Nadal won the 2018 and his 11th French Open last Sunday. I’ve run out of superlatives to describe his dominance on clay and at the French Open in particular. I expected him to win this one and I wanted him to win. I would not have lost any sleep, however, had Dominic Thiem won (I like him. He is Austrian like a onetime favourite tennis player of mine, Thomas Muster, a former French Open champion).

I can imagine the profound effect that it would have had on him and his career. It would have been a historic win, comparable to Rafa’s win over Roger Federer at Wimbledon in 2008. I’m certain, too, that the match would have been of epic proportions compared to the walk in the park that Sunday’s encounter was for Nadal. But, Rafa won. It had me thinking long and hard about his journey as a tennis player and the main thrust of this piece, Rafa’s awesome, but in my view, somewhat underrated feat as a champion.

For many tennis fans and journalists, Federer remains the all-time male tennis champion and few will argue against this; I know I won’t. To reach their conclusion, they measure him against past and current players, with Nadal as the chief marker among the latter. However, in the bid to hold Roger up as the ultimate champion, many deliberately try to diminish Nadal’s accomplishments, they serve up (yep!) several reasons that I will not bother with here to buttress their points—some valid, some spurious and some downright puerile.

I’ll return with this instead: For Federer to win his lone French open title, someone else had to eliminate Nadal. That someone was Robin Soderling, who caused one of the greatest upsets in the history of slams in 2009 by eliminating Rafa in the fourth round (I was miserable for a whole week and avoided tennis news for days). Nadal, on the other hand, won his first Wimbledon and only Australian Open titles by defeating Roger Federer. What is more, he did so at the time Roger’s game was regarded as ethereal and otherworldly. Safe to say that fans and tennis journos went into raptures. Nonetheless, Nadal beat Federer on Federer’s turf, to wit, the hallowed Wimbledon court, Roger’s beloved surface. Federer, however, was never able to get Rafa on Rafa’s turf. Indeed, the French open was where Rafa delivered the most awesome beat to Federer, en route to capturing the 2008 title. 2008 was the year he also finally got the better of Roger at Wimbledon, at his third attempt. What drive. What grit.

Rafa has been able to achieve all he has while constantly battling injuries. These injuries occurred at crucial moments and they, arguably, have cost him slam and Masters 1000 titles (Masters are rated next after slams in order of importance). His gruelling style of play has been singled out for these recurring injuries (he is not the most graceful of players, and watching him play can be tough on the eye, although the man by himself is an eye candy).

His is a style that led many tennis pundits to conclude prematurely that his career, as a tennis player would be a short one.Now though, Nadal has the highest tally of slams after Federer and 32 Masters 1000 titles (think how many more he would have won had he always been in optimal condition and had not had to withdraw from tournaments). From Nadal, however, there is no sign of him hanging up his racket anytime soon.

Vamos Rafa! Henceforth for many people, stepping on Philippe Chatrier would be like a religious experience. As for me, I would not mind if you now decide to finally listen to your body and go sit by the lake and fish to your heart’s content.And the familiar refrain of his career comes on again. Rafa’s had to pull out of next week’s grass tournament at Queens in England, a Wimbledon warm-up event for him, to “take care of his body”, as he said. What this bodes for Wimbledon itself is anyone’s guess.


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Rafa Nadal
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