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Nadalistical Nadal!

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Rafael Nadal of Spain reacts after winning against Diego Schwartzman of Argentina during their Men’s Singles Quarter-finals match at the 2019 US Open at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in New York on September 4, 2019. (Photo by Johannes EISELE / AFP)


Let me note straightaway that the Spaniard Rafael Nadal the great professional tennis-player, who actually is greater than a great professional tennis-player, is my idol of the fabulous sport. His exploits in the just-ended US Open at Flushing Meadows in New York City has just underlined and confirmed why he is what he is to me. His rivals in the persons and players respectively called Roger Federer and Nova Djokovic, as good and as great as they are, in my estimation, subjective or objective estimation, will always be beneath him. But for now let me state right away that I am not in any way attempting a comparison of Nadal, my Nadalistical Nadal, with the two named tennis maestros – who like him are more than maestros of the sport.

Daniil Medvedev, who spiritedly and spiritually confronted Nadal in last Sunday’s US Open final was almost going to create a maelstrom in the tennis world before Nadal through and through proved that he is the one and only Nadal of the sport. Medvedev is in no way numbered among his adversaries, old or new, but he was on the verge of making Nadal taste the bitter pill of an inexplicable defeat and pain that would have devastated not only Nadal but also everyone with a cosmic sense of the sport of tennis.

True, Daniil Medvedev, the twenty-three-year-old Russian tennis upstart has had a wonderful tennis summer underlined with appearances in three straight ATP finals – in Washington DC, USA (where he lost to Nick Kyrgios of Australia), Montreal, Canada (where he lost to Nadal) and Cincinnati, Ohio, USA (where he won the ATP 1000 Masters). His US Open final was his first Grand Slam final, and before the final he was seeded as the Number 5 professional tennis player in the world. So his tennis summer has been a really bright one indeed for the newly seeded Number 4 following his exploits, his latest rise and fast climb in Flushing Meadows in the big apple city that never sleeps.

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But my concern here is not with his bright summer renderings in the US Open, but with Nadal – who has just won his US Open Number 4 trophy at the “ripe” tennis age of thirty-three. And his newest victory makes him have to his name presently a total of nineteen Grand Slam trophies, one short of Roger Federer’s total of twenty. (But sooner than later, Nadal will overtake him handsomely – if all things go well with him).

How did Nadal win his US Open title Number 4? The answer to this question reveals the ugly and beautiful things and qualities about our tennis supreme champion. And the ugly and beautiful things and qualities about our super-champion all culminate in what I have called here his Nadalistical characteristics and temper peculiar to him and him alone. What are the Nadalistical characteristics and temper of our super-champion and tennis king supreme called Rafael Nadal?

They are his human frailties revealed, firstly, in his quarter-final encounter with Diego Schwartzman of Argentina en route to the final of the US Open. In the first set he was 4-0 up against the small man with the big tennis heart from Argentina, who our super-champion and super-great had beaten in their seven previous meetings. The small man crawled back to even the score with Nadal before the outstandingly great champ blew him away in set three. What happened? At key moments, Nadal allowed his over-aggressive play to overcome Nadal to the advantage of his opponent. Where and when he needed to be patient and cautious, he embarked on reckless and unnecessary aggression and combative haste that compelled him to commit forced and unforced errors that profited substantially his opponent. As humble as he is as a kingly super-champion who shows respect to his opponents, he can be too over-confident to the extent of playing or displaying what I may call here profit-and-loss tennis that could prove costly especially against luckier, skilful and experienced opponents.

Another name for this weakness in his game is sloppiness that by now he ought to have overcome. But his amazing resilience, more-than-a-horse-strength-and-stamina, never-say-never spirit, peculiar calmness when adversity cruelly stares at him, and perplexing variety of court style and display always turn his opponents into his tennis insects whom he ends up swatting with his famous swatter of a racquet. Indeed, when an opponent becomes a pest like a perturbing fly or mosquito, our super-champ becomes insectivorous or entomophagous.

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Against all stubborn opponents including Djokovic (whom he gave a bagel in Rome earlier this year), Federer (whom he blasted in Roland Garros earlier this year as well), and Schwartzman (whom he whacked after his initial sloppiness that astonished even himself in the first two sets of the US Open quarter-final match), he displayed his Nadalistical characteristics and temperament. Also, in the round that preceded the quarters, Marin Cilic of Croatia who was 2014 US Open winner wrenched from him a set on account of his Nadalistical flaws. And in the semis he floundered somewhat against the big Italian hitman Matteo Berretini. However, he eventually triumphed in three straight sets.

But it was in the final of the US Open against Medvedev that Nadal proved through and through the elasticity of his positive Nadalistical moments. Muscularly but sublimely he rescued his reputation that was on the brink of the precipice. An inexperienced Next Generation Tennis professional player, whom he had demolished barely three weeks earlier, was going to roll him out of his familiar turf due to his own self-imposed frailties. When it mattered most in the unnecessary fifth set that Nadal (and all the cosmic forces against him) dragged the game into, he dug deep into his reservoir. When Nadal eventually compelled Medvedev to commit the two vital, grave errors that won him victory and the championship – a hard earned one unfamiliar to him – the court-side commentator’s exclamation was “Nadal!” He should have simply said “Nadalistical Nadal!” I hereby utter. What a game of cosmic force versus cosmic force!

Wherever and whenever they meet again in the foreseeable future Nadalistical Nadal will still prevail over Medvedev. He will take his bountiful opportunities and white-wash Medvedev, force or no force of the cosmos. Furthermore, he will garner more trophies and titles in the years ahead, Nadalistically, and smash all tennis records unlike any other player, living or dead, before him or in history. This man is simply a gift from the gods of the glorious sport called Tennis, the very handsome sport that is more than very handsome for highly cerebral players and competitors. (By the way, next time I will tell you why I say that the last contest between Nadal and Medvedev was a contest of force versus force. Meantime, savour and savour Nadalistical Nadal!).
Afejuku can be reached via 08055213059.

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Rafael Nadal
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