‘Cause if he doesn’t, I’d like to start one. His respect for Rafa – the man and his game – makes for some great reads for Rafa-fans. Read his latest column – IW: Rafa Sightings – for the proof.
After the final, he’s asked why he thinks he handled the wind better than Murray. Nadal says that he thinks he “accepted” the conditions better than Murray, who fought them.
These two answers, about finding ways to win and accepting the conditions around him, point to what I think is, beyond his speed and spin and power, a major reason for Nadal’s success. Unlike most tennis players, even the best tennis players, he doesn’t play with anger or regret or frustration, the three emotions that doom most of us.
After losing the fourth set of the Wimbledon final last year, Nadal said that he sat down on the changeover and accepted that he had played horribly when he was ahead in the tiebreaker, but that otherwise he was “doing very well.” If Nadal is a control freak or a perfectionist, he doesn’t allow it to get the best of him. John McEnroe couldn’t emotionally deal with his errors, Djokovic lets his frustration affect his play, and even Federer gets down in the mouth if things aren’t going as he expects. Nadal accepts, when he walks onto a court, that he will not always be at his best. As a guy who is constantly trying to improve, he begins with the premise that he can never be perfect, and that he should not always win. Federer and Pete Sampras, by contrast, begin every match believing that no one can beat them if they go out and do what they’re supposed to do.
On the one hand, Nadal’s is an intelligent approach because it allows him to take pressure off himself and put his mistakes behind him—why regret what was inevitable in the first place? On the other hand, when you try to imagine actually putting this into practice in the heat of battle, you realize that it is an almost impossibly difficult psychological stance to achieve for any length of time. How does one banish these primal reactions?
Forget the biceps and the legs and the forehands and the overheads. Nadal’s most important strength is the one that’s the hardest for all of us to achieve. He has the strength to be honest with himself.