1st February :- “God, it’s killing me.” With these words the God of tennis broke down into tears; for the first time Roger Federer seemed human and for the first time he had been literally humbled. But that day stood for something much more: it stood for the heart, dedication and will of one man who won the final after having played a grueling 4.5 hour long semi-final less than 24 hours ago. It was the day that Rafael Nadal gained my respect as “the ultimate fighter” in tennis history.
I am a Roger Federer fan from the bottom of my heart; I am a Rafael Nadal hater. So when I heard the news that he was not going to play the U.S. Open, I leapt in excitement. It means perhaps another Grand Slam for Roger and at his age you simply cannot say which one will be his last. But then news surfaced in the tabloids that this injury might end Rafa’s career. It was 7 years ago when Rafa suffered an ankle injury which brought his career to a halt. The doctors said he would never be able to play tennis again. His career was almost over. But Rafa being Rafa fought, and fought hard. He is a Spartan and the warrior instinct is in his blood came out shining. His sponsors Nike designed special shoes for him which took the presssure away from his ankles but at the same time it meant that his back and knees would have to bear all the pressure. He also suffers from tendinitis in his knees. The pain was there, an everlasting pain that would haunt him throughout his career, but it is this pain in which the warrior from Mallorca revels. It is this pain which motivates him to run down every shot, play every point as if it is the last point he will ever play and when he does win we see the raw emotions pouring out because of the pain he has conquered.
So when I hear that Rafa might never return, and I hear tennnis experts say that his career is short and he will not be the same if he manages to comeback, I sit back and laugh.
It was about a month ago that I read Rafael Nadal’s autobiography “Rafa – My Story.” Three incidents from this book stand out in my mind and convince me that no matter what, the Spanish Bull will be back; that convince me that no matter what, he will return, and when he does, he will be stronger than ever. For Rafael Nadal is not a player; he is an enigma, he is a spirit, he is a tennis machine, a caged warrior , a person who simply doesn’t understand the word “quit.”
So I take you back to three incidents from his childhood. Incidents which shaped the Rafel Nadal today and incidents which convince me that when he returns, he will be better than ever.
Here are three stories (presented in the form of acts).
ACT 1:- Rafael Nadal had gone on to win the U-16 National Tennis Championship of Spain without dropping a single set. He was the youngest kid to have won it at the tender age of 14. He returned home with his uncle and coach Tony Nadal. His parents had prepared a grand party with the banners hailing their son. Toni Nadal walked in and pulled down the banners, called off the party and he shouted at Rafa’s parents, “What are you doing to Rafael?” Nadal was heartbroken, but the next day his uncle called him for training and showed him a list of names. It was a list of all the previous champions of the U-16 Tennis Championship of Spain and then he asked Rafa one single question – “This is the list of the people who had won this tournament before you. How many of them have gone on to win the Wimbledon?” The answer was none.
The lesson sunk into my mind. One needs to have ambition. And no matter what small things we achieve in our way, there should be no celebration until one has fulfilled his ambition.
One cannot afford to be distracted away from his goal by small achievements.
ACT 2:- A small tennis tournament was scheduled to be held after the summer break. Rafael Nadal, still a teenager, decided to spend the vacation with his friends, gallivanting day and night like every ordinary boy of his age. He entered the tournament with less than a week’s practice and ended up losing in the finals. The heartbroken teenager was in his car with his family when the tears started flowing. His father, in an attempt to console him, said,”But you had a great holiday with your friends.” To this the teenager replied,”I would have been happier if I had toiled on the court the entire summer and won the tournament today.” His father was shocked at the harsh treatment his son was inflicting upon himself but this was maturity arriving before his age. From that day onward, Nadal has not missed a day of training, be it his birthday or any other ocassion in the world.
More important than ambition is sacrifice: the willingness to give up everything else to fulfill your ambition.
ACT 3:- The last in not an act, but rather a philosophy which is there throughout the book. The philosophy is “endurance”. Right from his childhood till the present day, Toni Nadal smacks Rafa in the face with a tennis ball when his head is not in the game. Throughout his childhood he was made to train in the sun instead of the indoor stadium. His uncle would bark, “Endure Rafael, play through the pain and only then will you emerge a winner.” Even today he is made to train in the non air-conditioned gym of his hometown instead of the new one. Rafa has a protruding bone in his ankle which inhibits his on-court movement but he has played through the pain throughout his career to win 11 Grand Slams.
As they say, only when you are ready to endure, will you be able to realize the true essence of winning.
Rafael Nadal will rise again. He will rise and those dark days will come back to haunt me and the millions of Federer fans once again. He is down and out, wounded and wrapped up in cotton and wool, but this is familiar territory for Rafael Nadal; exactly the circumstances which propel him to higher levels of performance and athleticism.
Come 2013, the Gladiator will return to the Colosseum.
*I HATE RAFAEL NADAL.