A Tribute to a Tennis Legend.
The unforced slice error of the 32 year old Wawrinka owing to the intense shriek and the ferocious return; and the unbelievable feat was finally achieved. The Spanish Matador, Rafael Nadal had fulfilled his Roland Garros dream & La Decima is now the stunning reality. Breezing through his opponents and virtually crushing them on his way to his 15th grand slam title, on his favourite surface and in one of his most loved places in the world; Nadal has reinvented himself like no one had ever imagined. The tenacity, speed, power and the never say die attitude has returned and Rafa is well on his way to the top of the pile with now a 79-2 record at the French Open. What’s more stunning is that the champion has never lost a single Roland Garros final out of the 10 finals he’s played. Such is the excellence of the man who won his first ever French Open title aged 19 in 2005 and his 10th aged 31, becoming the 1st person to win a Grand Slam title 10 times in the Open era. Nobody has come close to rivalling his game on the clay.
Tennis greats poured in their blessings, praise and amazement when the 31-year-old was crowned as the champion yet again! Uncle Toni couldn’t have been more proud of his nephew who has carved himself as one of the very, very best to have ever played the beautiful game. Most of the ardent and hardcore tennis fans & pundits had given up their hopes on Nadal to ever win another grand slam owing to his injuries & inconsistencies since winning the French Open back in 2014. A two and half-year grand slam drought and almost everyone including some Rafa fans thought that their hero would soon fade away without resurgence. While Federer was still going strong in those years and the tennis world saw the rise of giants like Djokovic and Murray along with some consistent performances from Wawrinka & Nishikori; Nadal was struggling to rebuild his game & intensity which had propelled him to the World No. 1 ranking thrice between 2008 & 2014. But Nadal’s nature and aggression wasn’t be ignored for too long as he revamped himself in 2017 with a 43-6 win loss record, the best this year so far. Winning his 10th titles in Barcelona & Madrid, Rafael Nadal gave a testament of his courage to overcome the obstacles, his will to keep going no matter how hard the climb gets and his sheer brilliance with the tennis racquet to prove himself as arguably the best player in history.
Yet the man remains ever so humble & hungry for more success and happiness he gets from being a part of the tennis fraternity. For me his quote about his fiercest rival Roger Federer in 2010 – “If anyone says I am better than Roger, then he doesn’t know anything about tennis.” remains his best ever; signifying the man’s humility and greatness. Lots of people praise and indirectly taunt Nadal for being just the ‘King of Clay’ and Roger for being the ‘King of Tennis’ labeling the latter as the best ever bar none. But taking into account the several injuries and the time spent off the court in his professional career, Nadal has won more titles since he turned pro in 2001 compared to Federer who turned pro in 1998 in a shorter span of actually playing the game on court. Add to that Nadal’s supremacy of 23-14 in head-to-head vs Roger and it pacifies most of the arguments made about the ‘Best of all Time’. For sure Roger has amazed the world with his consistency and supremacy of a different level over all the players of his generation winning most number of titles; but as most of the fans & pundits would agree, without the Fedal rivalry the records would not have been as astonishing as they are.
Keeping the debate aside, Fedal have given us tons of memories and some other-worldly games in sports history, the greatest of which still remains Rafa’s 2008 Wimbledon win over Roger. Despite his constant sparring with his body & its tantrums Nadal has miraculously won everything there is to win in Tennis and all of it in his own style and I repeat; with his one of a kind intensity. The 2008 Beijing Olympics victory gave Nadal his Career Golden Slam win, cementing his legacy forever. Yet, on the 11th of June 2017, as Wawrinka missed his slice, the child-like Nadal collapsed on his back celebrating his victory with teary eyes and utmost gratitude to God, his family and his fans all over the world.
As both of them are reaching the twilight of their careers; with Federer seemingly close to retirement, their rivalry is active with Nadal keeping Federer hot on his heels with Spaniard’s 15 titles as compared to 18 won by the Swiss. All the Nadal fans and millions around the world wait for the day when the Spanish great eclipses the Swiss’ grand slam tally & truly seals himself as the King. Nobody knows for sure whether it will happen or not, but everyone agrees to the fact there will never be another Roger Federer and for sure there will never be another phenomenon known as ‘Rafael Nadal’.
– Chinmay Bapat