Five things I learnt from Rafael Nadal
While the amazing (in every sense and tone) institutions that I was privileged to be a part of taught me a lot, sport – though I play no game – has taught me plenty. In particular, two guys taught me plenty of the values that I hold close to my heart till date, two of my role models in life – Rafael Nadal & Rahul Dravid. Incidentally, to me, what impressed the most about both these guys is near about the same thing. So much that you could take out all instances of Rafael Nadal from this article, and replace them with Rahul Dravid. And it will still make complete sense. (Ok, the tennis and cricket examples too!)
Never say die attitude
“Wherever the ball goes, Nadal will follow.” Not once, not twice; but for every single point in the game. Every impossible angle on the court, just when the player at the other end of the court thinks he has finally got one past Nadal, Rafael pulls out a lunge and manages to keep the point going.
And never say die cannot be complete without his amazing ability to pull out all stops at the most crucial juncture in the match; when he is a few points away from defeat, he kicks on his best tennis. Every blow of the opponent is absorbed, and the punch that is landed in return is a killer blow. Just how many matches do you remember where Nadal has won in 5, after being pushed to the brink?
Sample this year’s French Open semifinal against Djokovic. Or this year’s US Open final. That one set where he came back from 4-1 to win the match. That probably summed up Nadal’s career. Keep going, keep going and never give up. You’ll manage to find a crack in the opponent’s wall.
How many times has he made critics who felt his career was over, eat their words; and come back stronger than ever before every single time!
“Sorry for today. I know how you’re feeling right now. It’s really tough. But remember you are a great champion, you are one of the best in history and you’re going to improve the 14 of Sampras,” said Rafa after beating Federer in that Australian Open final that left Roger in tears.
And this one, “I may have beaten him (Federer) three times. But he’s still the best. He’s an unbelievable person and I admire him a lot.”
Sample these against “This is probably my most dominant grand slam victory and it’s already my 10th in such a short period of time. I amazed myself.” Or this one when he had a 1-3 head record against Nadal: “I’m at the top of my game so, when I win or lose, I don’t freak out…I don’t think we can call it a rivalry yet. There’s just too many great players around.”
And this: “I came so close [to breaking Sampras' record] and I could have chased it if I had wanted to. I didn’t choose to.”
And finally: “It’s always me who’s going to dictate play & decide how the outcome is going to be. If I play well I will most likely win in the score or beat [Nadal]; if I’m not playing so well, that’s when he wins.”
Well, I know who the more humble champion is. Every match that he loses, credit is given to the opponent for playing well rather than a certain somebody who feels he did not play his heavenly level of tennis, and hence the opponent got lucky. Every question about the Greatest of all time, answered with such poise and humility. Ever grounded, never arrogant despite all the success and the records that he has. That’s what I like the most about Rafael.
With hardwork, comes success
Rafa is one example to show that with hard work, and some amount of talent, you certainly can reach the very top. He certainly isn’t the most talented player out there. Roger Federer and arguable Djokovic, Safin and the likes are/were more naturally talented tennis players than Rafa. But with the hard work that Rafa puts into his game, the effort that he puts into every point, he has managed to not just reach the top but become one of the greatest ever tennis players of all time. Just goes to show that “Hardwork will beat talent, if the talent does not work hard enough”.
Look to reinvent all the time
“Even if I have already peaked, I have to believe I can improve. I wake up every morning, and go to practice, with the illusion that I’m going to get better that day.”
Clay Court Bully? Really?
“I always work with a goal – and the goal is to improve as a player and a person. That, finally, is the most important thing of all.”
“I tried to find a solution to the problem that I had, tried to find a way to start playing better.”
When he started off, he was branded yet another of those Spanish clay courters. After a few clay court triumphs, people felt he was probably a little better – a Clay Court Specialist; and later a Clay Court Bully. But Rafa, being Rafa managed to destroy Roger in his own backyard. A clay courter, who subtly reinvented his game to suit another surface.
Then came the talk of it being a one-off. That was sent to dust with another triumph in the Wimbledon grass. People accepted he was more than just a Clay-courter. Then Rafa reinvented himself, his serve and his attitude in the game to play better on Hard courts that were his greatest bane. And managed to complete the Career Slam and the Olympic Gold; faster than the “Greatest Player of all time” – Federer.
Injuries came and injuries went, and every time Rafa tweaked some part of his game, reinvented himself and it took him to greater success.
Intensity and passion in what you do
Bjorn Borg said about Nadal: “Every point he plays is like match point.” Every small and important point that he wins, is punctuated with the fist pump, and the war cry “Vamos”. Few players are more passionate and intense during a game. Every point is contested, and there are no free points to pick for the player at the other end of the court. Even at 0-5 and 0-40, the point is contested like it meant the world to him. And every single point, be it the last point in a 5 hour epic, sees him run around the court like it was just the first point of the game.
Fewer better role models, and none better, for me at least!