RafaLint: January 30th

Photo by Scott Barbour/ Getty Images

Today’s recommended reading:
Nadal vs. Djokovic: Here We Are Again, My Friend – by Brian Phillips (Grantland.com)

No, this isn’t recommended reading, it’s required reading. If you haven’t read it already – go off. Be gone with you. Read it. We’ll wait until you get back. *whistles*

The cruelest thing about this glutted golden age of men’s tennis is that it keeps producing astonishing matches, matches that actually expand your idea of what sport can be, and someone has to lose all of them.

Depends on your definition of lose, I guess. I know someone walked off with a title, bigger trophy and more money, but I don’t think either player was a loser on Sunday.

Nadal, though? He plays like he’s fighting giants. It’s not just the sneer, or the muscles, or the hair, or that forehand — you know, the one where he swoops the racket all the way around his head like he’s whipping the team pulling his chariot. It’s also that frantic tenacity that used to drive me so nuts. Federer seems devastated when he loses but he also seems to sense losses coming and accept them before they arrive. When Nadal falls behind, he turns the match into life and death. He gets mad. He hesitates less. He hits the ball harder. He doesn’t look sad or scared. He looks defiant, and he plays like he’s possessed.

There was more than one time during that final where Rafa had the look of a madman in his eye. I remember seeing him turning to get a ball from a ball kid to serve (he wasn’t rude or anything) and his eyes were wide and full of crazy. It frightened me and thrilled me at the same time.

Of course, the terrible thing about tennis, as opposed to mere epic warfare, is that you have to do it again next week. Ultimately, I think what’s clued me in to Nadal’s greatness is that, ever since Djokovic’s rise, he plays this way and still loses.

Or he plays this way, loses and still comes back for more.

You spend years in the shadow of your rival. You never stop working or believing. Finally it all comes together: you surpass him. For a year, maybe two, you win everything. You turn the game upside down, and your bottomless reserve of will makes you seem unstoppable. All the records are going to fall.7 Then, more or less suddenly, a guy you used to beat comfortably surpasses you. Long before your reign was supposed to end, you find yourself overshadowed again. You lose five straight, six straight, seven straight to the new champion, all in finals, three of them in majors. You’re 25, in what should be the peak of your prime as an athlete, and you’re right back where you started. It turns out that your relentlessness isn’t an unstoppable force. But — precisely because you have it — you keep going as if it is.

It’s madness. Bless him.

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29 Responses

  1. abbey says:

    oh, miri. i was having breakfast when i read that grantland piece and i started tearing up. *sigh* i can’t fathom right now the thought of tennis without rafa.

    and the grantland article ties up very well with Tignor’s. how epic rafa’s career already is from the matches he’s won AND lost. and i thank rafa for all those epic matches.

    • L says:

      I teared up 2. His relentlessness despite the losses – I don’t know how he keeps coming back when everytime i fear another loss will break him:(

      • L says:

        I suppose us mere mortals aren’t made of the strong stuff of champions;)

        • Emma says:

          yes exactly. how he comes back again and again and again(for the last 7 seven times already) after each loss. mere mortals like us would just give up trying and attribute the loss to lack of effort and lack of interest to even try but our boy keeps trying, each time with more intensity and eagerness than the last. that’s why he tugs at my heart strings so much. takes my breath away..

  2. mafie says:

    The Grantland article is here and with Miri’s comments. Superb. :)

    Yes folks. This is required reading and does remind all of us what makes Rafa great and truly special.

  3. Leslie says:

    Nice to see the words of tribute for the incomparable Rafael Nadal!
    Especially touching from Feliciano and Pau Gasol. Gracias Our Champion now and forever. Exactly. Vamos Rafa siempre.

  4. L says:

    Just read the El Pais piece about Rafa’s plans for Feb. I was hoping he would take a longer rest period but with all the things he wants to work on there’s not really enough time for that. It seems as though he’s gonna push himself to the limit, I just hope there’s no injury setbacks. If Rafa can really make the improvements he’s pointed out he could take his game to another level but of course implementing those changes during matches is always the hardest thing to do.

    His mind is in the right place now his game just needs to get there.

  5. the other Maria says:

    That is a very emotional piece of writing. But, what’s more relevant to me is one point that the writer makes. This match has started to shift the perception that people other than fans have of Rafa. People (commies aside, they have to tell the story of winners, it’s in their job description) are now starting to awake to a new image of Rafa. He’s great. Special. I understand that a seemingly never-ending story of heartbreak and reward denied despite all efforts will always strike a chord. People feel sorry for the one who suffers this much and yet gets nothing. But it’s more than that. I think that people have started to realize what Rafa, in himself, by himself, outside the added value brought by that / this / any rivalry and beyond convenient stereotypes, has been bringing to the sport.

    On a different note, I loved the article by Carlos Moya. Simple and precise. And I agree that this final was totally different than the others.

  6. Emmanuelle says:

    It’s impressive all what Rafa wants to improve in his game in one month… It’s gonna be an intensive month. I hope he will be satisfied with his improvements. I think it’s what he likes more in tennis : to try to keep improving and that’s why we would like to reduce the calendar to be able to do so more often.

  7. Allyn Sims says:

    The main reason I’m a Rafa fan: When I think back on the handful of greatest tennis matches I’ve seen in my life, Rafa’s been one half of them, win or lose. The man’s fighting spirit produces spectacular and dramatic tennis not only in himself but his opponents.

    • aRafaelite says:

      So true! Of the matches people have been bringing up in the last few days as contenders to the great match ever – Rafa has played in half of them. I thought Wimbledon 2008 was the greatest ever until I rewatched the AO SF 2009. Hard to choose between the two. I don’t think this one came close to either of those, but the last two sets were undoubtedly great. And then there’s the WTF match against Murray in 2010 which I remember as being fantastic too. ‘Common’ denominator? Rafa. Always Rafa!

  8. Joana says:

    “7.Nadal won nine majors, completed the career Grand Slam, and won a gold medal at the Olympics before his 25th birthday.”
    Small correction! Rafa won 10 majors and not 9 !!! Apart from that the article is great !

  9. Patricia says:

    Yes Grantland said it all, the mighty warrior will be back!

  10. Jenny says:

    It’s just the first major tournament of the year. There are still 3 GS to come, an Olympic Gold medal and a lot of Masters to win.
    you have lost a battle but you haven’t lost the war! and I think you’re on the right track, just keep working and the result will come. Vamos Rafa!!!

  11. ds says:

    wonderful article. I really think he can do it. he’s almost there.

  12. JK says:

    I think Rafa loves challenges. Early part/ first half of 2011 he looked very drained. He won 3 slams in 2010 and felt no challenge coming his way. Then came all the losses to Djokovic which made him even more drained and tired.

    I think with a bit of break in December he probably had time to see Djokovic’s form as a new challenge. I think this is exciting him and you can tell based on his form on court and mood in the pressers that he is upbeat. He has something to look forward to now.

    RG is Djokovic’s final frontier and it is such a coincidence also Rafa’s back yard. It is meant to be Rafa’s destiny to stop him there of all places :)

  13. Sharon/London says:

    i would love Rafa to beat Nole in the final at RG. I dont think i could stomach it, Rafa losing there and what would it do to him mentally,it doesn’t bare thinking about.

  14. Ramara says:

    I’m wondering if that knee scare the day before the tournament didn’t actually give Rafa a wake up call, reminding him that the athlete’s life is short. He came into the AO not expecting much, feeling not as well prepared as he’d have liked and at times we all live down to expectations. That may have reminded him to play each match as if it were his last.

    And never say he came away with nothing!! Finals ain’t nothing and the way he fought and played has gained him renewed respect from players, pundits and fans. Getting down to the nitty gritty, he picked up about 900 points on both Roger and Nole. Roger was breathing down his neck for #2, which might not seem that big a deal, but it’s the difference between possibly meeting Djokovic in semis and a guarantee that it happens only in a final.

  15. timov says:

    Tennis without Rafa it’s just another sport and as the commies said “Federer is the most admired but RAFA is the most loved”! We love him!!!

  16. Keith says:

    Well the Grantland question how does it feel to loose despite your heroic competitive spirit? I think Rafa only knows one way to be himself. He also tasted the possibility of victory and so he will follow the scent like a shark following blood.

  17. Bebe says:

    I am one of the Rafa fans who really isn’t sure if he will beat Djokovic in the near future, and I am at peace with that. What I learned after this latest final is that Rafa’s spirit can’t be crushed, and that’s more than enough for me. What an amazing athlete he is!!

  18. dk says:

    Not quite sure where to post this but there is (at least some) truth in the article at http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2012/writers/bruce_jenkins/01/31/australian-open-thoughts/.

  19. Bookshere says:

    Also highly recommended reading: “Nadal has tools, fortitude to beat Djokovic; more Aussie thoughts”.

    Read more: http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2012/writers/bruce_jenkins/01/31/australian-open-thoughts/index.html#ixzz1l6PT3qau

  20. timov says:

    even now, there are tears i my eyes…

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