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Stormy Nadal stormed to twelve and eighteen

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Rafael Nadal . PHOTO: FRANCOIS XAVIER MARIT / AFP

He is universally known as the King of Clay in the circus and world of tennis. The reason is simple. He has dominated the clay court in ways no one before him had done (and none after him probably will). Previous eleven Roland Garros grand-slams in his kitty plus other more than numerous 1000 ATP Masters and 500 ATP titles said and spoke it all. Clearly and unbelievably, no matter the kerfuffle it may generate, Rafael Nadal, the young Spaniard now at the old age of 33 years (quite really an ancient age for any sportsperson), would certainly by now have won far more tennis trophies in history than ageless Roger Federer were it not for the troubling injuries that have devoured the fantastically unbelievable King of Clay over the years. In fact, he had missed nothing short of a total of fifteen grand-slams due to injuries ranging from his well known knee tendinitis to ankle and back problems, to severe wrist and abdominal pains, and to other psychological issues that are not glaringly in the public domain. Certainly, he would have won nothing short of at least half of the grand-slams that his injuries forced him to skip. Again, none of his rivals and other fellow players, especially in his age bracket on tour, would have stood near him were they to have faced or experienced the vagaries of injuries and of problems Nadal had known. Indeed, if any of them had been in his shoes, they would have been far beneath and behind him. I say this without qualms even though my saying this may raise some kerfuffle – I say it again – in some quarters. His great rival and friend Roger Federer rightly knows this. Asked recently, before their semi-final clash in Roland Garros, about his chances of beating Nadal, especially on clay, the great Swiss player, who had beaten Nadal in their last five meetings, said as follows: “He might be sick, you never know” – meaning that the incredible Spaniard can only be beaten or vanquished if he is not fully fit to play, that is, when Nadal is not 100% fit or near his best. When Nadal is fully fit to play, paddy nor dey for jungle. For Nadal, the tennis court is akin to a jungle meaning that when players are on the court the contest for magnificence or for performance of splendour is devoid of friendship. Truly, there is no paddy for jungle on ATP tennis tours.
What am I trying to lead my readers to?

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Obviously, the just concluded 2019 French Open universally known as Roland Garros is compelling me to dwell on the humble, talented, imperturbable and magnificent young Spaniard who should be a role model for our country’s youths (and all youths over the world). His humility or passion for his beloved sport is legendary in every positive sense of the word. And this humility or passion – in truth, both – has kept/have kept him going over his tennis years, especially since 2005 when he stamped his authority on Roland Garros which he won for the first time that year when he was barely nineteen years old. A year earlier, he had succumbed to a thumb injury that prevented him from competing there. Since that time, after the thumb injury had healed, up to now, he has marvellously whacked everyone that needed to be whacked. He has actually been a storm, a tennis storm, that has whipped and whacked and stormed his way to unprecedented twelve Roland Garros titles, and eighteen grand-slams overall – only two short of Roger Federer’s twenty – which, barring the visits of injuries, he definitely will surpass in no distant time. This is a tennis and Rafael Nadal prophecy, as I crystal-ball it, that will definitely see the light of day on the courts of ATP tours.

Now, the storm called Nadal has just stormed to his twelfth Roland Garros slam, which makes him the first player ever, male or female, in history to hold twelve victories of the same grand-slam or of any tournament – as we all tennis pundits and fans and followers and historians know. This feat that is more than a feat indicates that he has overtaken the Australian Margaret Court, the female tennis player, who won eleven Australian Open titles. And Storm Nadal is not French! His Roland Garros feats and victories were/are on foreign soil!

Nadal’s build-up to this year’s Roland Garros was clearly far from what it should be. It was outside the norm of the time-table of his preparation for the event. With unusual three semi-final defeats in a row in Monte Carlo, Barcelona, and Madrid tournaments as a result of psychological problems and knee tendinitis, which re-occurred in Indian Wells earlier on, and which compelled him to pull out of that tournament even though he had qualified to play Roger Federer, the Swiss maestro, in the semi, his fate was sealed for the rest of the season – it seemed. In Rome 1000 ATP Masters he bounced back though to give Novak Djokovic, the Serbian big-mouth and current number one, a hiding and a bagel when they met in the final. Even then, there were still doubts and questions about his ability and preparedness to defend the trophy he won for the eleventh time last year. Could he tame the likes of Fabio Fognigni, Dominic Thiem, Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic this year in Paris, the home of Roland Garros, Nadal’s true tennis-home and grand-slam house?

Nadal the storm inched and stormed his way to the final, bruising and brushing aside some unknown quantities and the likes of David Govin, Kei Nishikori, Roger Federer, fierce players and his rivals, until Dominic Thiem surfaced in the final to meet him. He simply dominated and tamed Dominic Thiem, the clay-prince who topped and torpedoed the King of Clay in Barcelona. The Roland Garros final was going to be a battle royal between the king and the prince! There was a huge expectation last Sunday, June 9th, 2019. As usual, Nadal the wondrous storm did not disappoint with the way he performed his ritual of stupendously lining up his on-court drinks and of perpetually adjusting his shorts and of incessantly rubbing his nose when he was ready to tantalize and do severe damage to his opponent.

It was a battle of aggression and real aggression from the start which the second set in particular underlined. Nadal got the first set at 6-1. Thiem got the second set at 7-5 – luckily so for Theim. Thereafter Nadal’s imperturbableness and never-say-never spirit took over proceedings, well assisted by his skill and aesthetic spins, his famed topspins, and deadly forearm strokes and terrifying smashes and boom-booms and delicate, spinning serves. And Storm Nadal meandered through the encounter and stormed his way through the topsyturviness of it all like Storm Miguel, the inclement weather storm, that outbalanced Djokovic and Thiem two days or so before what turned out to be the unexpected decimation of Thiem in the final. In the third and fourth sets Nadal, current number two, made mine-meat of Thiem, whom he taught further lessons on how to navigate the storm of Roland Garros. It was their fourth meeting or so, and their second encounter, after last year’s, in the Roland Garros final. Passion, resilience, confidence combined with the other Nadal characteristics to make the great champion of champions to prevail. There was no coincidence or luck in the manner the man I now call the Storm whacked Thiem 6-1, 5-7, 6-1, 6-1 to get Roland Garros number twelve and grand-slam number eighteen.

And one lesson our youths must learn and imbibe is this: Hard work is good. It doesn’t kill and it won’t kill. It will nearly kill, but it won’t kill. Hard work and passion constitute the key to success in any endeavour. Do what you love, and love what you do. Prod and jab on no matter the odds. Plough through the odds. Re-invent yourself/yourselves in trying times. To hammer through devilish acts leads but to untimely graves.

I must end with a simple philosophic one-line statement Nadal made after his momentous, historic Roland Garros victory: “You have to thank life for all that it gives.” And this: “You want more money, a bigger house, a new boat, and even a prettier girl-friend. You cannot be happy like that.” He is right – the impervious Storm of imperturbableness.

Afejuku may be reached via +2348055213059 (SMS only) or via WhatsAPP.


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