This article is basically a repeat of the one that Elizabeth Kaye wrote for Men’s Journal, but a bit has been added that ties it to the upcoming Wimbledon tournament.
To win big is to have much to lose, and everyone loses someday. Nadal has always said he knows he can lose any time that he steps on to the court, and now we know, if we ever doubted it, that he wasn’t kidding. That this day would come when and as it did breathes new life into the old term “cheap irony” given that the loss occurred two days after Nadal set the all-time record for consecutive wins at Roland Garros with his 31st straight victory, and that he lost to an inexplicably on-fire Robin Soderling, a 24-year-old journeyman who’d suffered a 6-1, 6-0 beat-down at Nadal’s hands weeks before, and was known chiefly for the startling viciousness with which he’d mocked Nadal when they played an attenuated five-day match at rain-drenched Wimbledon in 2007.
What occasioned the loss? All we know for sure is that, for whatever reason, Nadal’s calm – the quality he most values and requires on court and off – abandoned him. “At key moments,” he said after the match, “I couldn’t take the opportunity because I was losing my calm and I didn’t play well.”
So the stone has rolled back down the hill, but Nadal takes it as an opportunity to better his game. “I need to learn,” he said, “and you learn more when you lose than when you win. You need a defeat to give value to your victories.”
As the grass-court season begins, he’ll be out there trying his best, and cheering him on will be that diverse, ever-expanding throng who call themselves his fans: the young couple who named their son Rafa, the dozen teenagers, male and female, who each wear a T-shirt sporting a single letter which spells WE [hearts] RAFA NADAL, the older ladies yearning to get his autograph on their sun visors, the armies of kids with their Nike bandanas and lasso forehands, the posters from vamosbrigade.com, where fans worldwide worry when he loses weight and rejoice when he wins. These are the people who adore Nadal, first and foremost for his spirit and second, for his game. In defeat, Nadal proved to them, and to everyone, what he could not show us in victory: that there is more than one way to be a champion.
Updated: I’ve updated this to include some scans that skyejaden found. I tried to clean them up the best I could. Note to people scanning from magazines or newspapers: put a piece of black construction paper behind the page you are scanning (prevents text from leaking through); use any and all moire filtering that your scanner offers. [/endPickyBitchRant]