Concrete Elbow by Steve Tignor - IW: Rafa Sightings
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IW: Rafa Sightings 03/23/2009 - 12:43 AM

Rn The last 10 days in Indian Wells were a riot of tennis, with players, fans, press, tournament workers, and myriads of other humans crisscrossing all over the grounds. Floating above them the entire time, and landing safely with the trophy between his teeth at the end, was one man.

In my own little corner of this world, the back rows of the pressroom, Rafael Nadal was a figure of fascination. I heard reporters who don't normally cover tennis say how "charming" and "hilarious" and "nice" and "amazing" he was. As a player, yes, but even more so as a person.

They're right, of course, but they're getting in a little late, don't you think? After making easy, 6-1, 6-2, work of the No. 4 player in the world today, Nadal stands at an unprecedented career peak. He's won the first Slam and Masters event of the season and dominated a Davis Cup tie for Spain. The season, as Nadal said today, is long, and at this time last year Novak Djokovic found himself in much the same position. But for now the only way I can think of to wrap up this tournament properly is to record the best of what I saw of its central character, Rafael Nadal.

—I had lunch at 1:30 or so on Sunday. The cafeteria was mostly empty. Facing away from me, toward a wall, a few feet from a TV, was Nadal. He was at a table with a hitting partner and looked smaller in his sweatshirt and vintage blue-and-yellow Nike sneakers. He was watching golf; he and his friend were analyzing how one of the golfers should hit the ball. Nadal put his hand up and moved it toward the right, indicating that it should be a slice. When the shot landed with a thunk in the sand trap, Nadal went "Ooof." He was scheduled to play the final in an hour.

—It was match point for Nadal against Andy Roddick in the second-set tiebreaker of their semifinal. Roddick duffed a strange return that popped up diagonally and landed in an awkward position for Nadal, a few inches from the net on his backhand side. Nadal wanted to drill it but couldn't get there in time. You could see him adjust as he ran. When he got there, he pushed the ball lightly and at an extreme crosscourt angle. This forced Roddick well wide of the court on his pass. He got to it, gave it a rip, but couldn't bring it back into the court. Anyone who says modern tennis, or modern men's tennis, is the domain of thoughtless power needs to see that shot and the improvisatory poise that made it happen.

 —At his press conference after his quarterfinal win over Juan-Martin del Potro, Nadal shows up with two chocolate chip cookies and starts to eat them as he talks.

Q. I'm surprised to see you eating cookies. Are they chocolate chip cookies?


RAFAEL NADAL: Yeah.

Nadal says "Yeah," but his smile says, "So? What about it?"

Q. I was wondering if you have things like that quite a bit? I always think athletes have a very regimented diet and don't indulge. 


RAFAEL NADAL: Not me. (Laughter.) 


Long pause, Nadal flashes what you might call a s--- eating grin.

"My opinion, you can eat everything. Well, before the match maybe don't have five cookies or one steak, but my opinion, you can eat everything in the right time. If I eat right now, 20 cookies, maybe I gonna have indigestion tonight. If I eat two, three cookies, maybe it's OK.

Maybe not for the stomach, no, but for the head it's better. (Laughter.) In the end, the important thing is to be mentally okay.

Q. Better mental preparation? 


RAFAEL NADAL: Yeah.

—Nadal is down a match point and for all intents and purposes out of it in the fourth round against David Nalbandian. He hits a ball with maximum force that lands on the line for a winner.

When he pulls out the second set in a tiebreaker, I can only wonder if any other great players in history have had so many emotional, dramatic, unlikely, and memorable moments as Nadal. Already this year he's been involved in two classics—Verdasco in Melbourne and Nalbandian here—and topped them both by putting his arm around Roger Federer.

—Nadal walks into his press conference after the final with his cellphone in his hand and a distracted look on his face. He looks like he's walking toward a van that’s going to take him to the airport, not to answer questions from a room full of reporters. He sits down and says, lightly, "Hel-lo."

—It's 2-2 in the second set of the men's final. The wind has kicked up and is swirling. Nadal and Andy Murray each move inside the baseline and chip balls at each other that bend and curl in the breeze. It looks like they're playing paddleball with magnetized racquets. Nadal takes a ball from Murray and slices it back low and slow and down the middle. He follows it forward. The ball curves away from Murray, who can't get his forehand up and over the net. Nadal breaks and doesn't lose another game. Ditto my comment above about his shot on match point against Roddick—improvisatory poise at its best.

—To do this, Nadal uses a Babolat Aerodrive (or something like that), a racquet that nobody else anywhere uses. It reminds me of his cookie comment—you can eat everything, you can use anything, it doesn't matter, what matters is you.

—Late in the second set in the final, Murray runs down a lob and flicks a forehand over his head. Nadal lets it go and watches it drop two feet inside the line. When his reaction—he jumps a little, closes his eyes, raises his head, and opens his mouth to say something like, "Oh no!"—is replayed on the big screen, the audience erupts with laughter.

—Nadal practices his forehand over the first weekend of the tournament. He's working on snapping up on it with less backswing and more flick. In his next match, he seems to have it mastered, and it does look a little different and more abbreviated than I remember it. While Federer sticks with what works and maintains a deep belief in his innate ability, Nadal is about the process. He's a tinkerer who doesn't believe he was born to be the best; he concentrates on how he can improve himself enough to get there. He's there, but he's still tinkering.

—After his semifinal, Nadal is asked whether he feels like he has learned to win matches even when he's not playing his best. He says that that's something he's always had success doing. 

After the final, he's asked why he thinks he handled the wind better than Murray. Nadal says that he thinks he "accepted" the conditions better than Murray, who fought them.

These two answers, about finding ways to win and accepting the conditions around him, point to what I think is, beyond his speed and spin and power, a major reason for Nadal's success. Unlike most tennis players, even the best tennis players, he doesn't play with anger or regret or frustration, the three emotions that doom most of us.

After losing the fourth set of the Wimbledon final last year, Nadal said that he sat down on the changeover and accepted that he had played horribly when he was ahead in the tiebreaker, but that otherwise he was "doing very well." If Nadal is a control freak or a perfectionist, he doesn't allow it to get the best of him. John McEnroe couldn't emotionally deal with his errors, Djokovic lets his frustration affect his play, and even Federer gets down in the mouth if things aren't going as he expects. Nadal accepts, when he walks onto a court, that he will not always be at his best. As a guy who is constantly trying to improve, he begins with the premise that he can never be perfect, and that he should not always win. Federer and Pete Sampras, by contrast, begin every match believing that no one can beat them if they go out and do what they're supposed to do.

On the one hand, Nadal's is an intelligent approach because it allows him to take pressure off himself and put his mistakes behind him—why regret what was inevitable in the first place? On the other hand, when you try to imagine actually putting this into practice in the heat of battle, you realize that it is an almost impossibly difficult psychological stance to achieve for any length of time. How does one banish these primal reactions?

Forget the biceps and the legs and the forehands and the overheads. Nadal's most important strength is the one that's the hardest for all of us to achieve. He has the strength to be honest with himself.


 
250
Comments
 
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Posted by jnh 03/23/2009 at 01:07 AM

first

Posted by octennis 03/23/2009 at 01:11 AM

first?

Posted by Andy 03/23/2009 at 01:15 AM

Awesome post. Thanks a lot, Steve. The conclusion is beautiful. It's always seemed to me that Nadal has this brilliantly simple approach to things and that he doesn't get into his own way at all.

Posted by kaizenchick 03/23/2009 at 01:18 AM

Great article, Steve. After Rafa's semifinal match with Roddick, the commentators were unequivocably tipping Murray to win in the final, saying Rafa was 'messy' while the Scot was 'efficient'. In the end, they were all proved wrong--even under the blustery conditions of the final, Rafa displayed more maturity, adaptability & finesse than I had ever seen him do.

Posted by 1221 03/23/2009 at 01:19 AM

Great stuff man.

Posted by 1221 03/23/2009 at 01:20 AM

When I saw Nadal's video at AO of him wishing in a dandelion, it was so overwhelming to see that a great champion like metaphorically placed his faith on that piece of cotton ball...that act was so simple and so sincere. This guy, continues to amaze me.

Posted by gcchung 03/23/2009 at 01:23 AM

Steve:

Thank you for the postcards from the tournament and the insightful analysis of Nadal's game. I've always thought that he was one of the most pragmatic of players, trying to find a way to win and playing within himself. His humble demeanor is not a pose. It's part of his strength because his ego is not wedded to any strategy. He is also much smarter than most journalists perceive. He is not a tennis savant. He is a competitor savant and tennis happens to be his game.

He out Muzza-ed Muzza today, just as he did at Wimbledon. I would love a US Open re-match to see what new tactics he would try.

Vamos, Rafa! and congratulations on a fascinating tournament. You threw in something of everything in the last 2 weeks.

Posted by annove 03/23/2009 at 01:31 AM

Great post! That's one of the best reading of Nadal I've seen in a while. I think you encapsulated one of the challenges of watching Federer as a fan versus watching Nadal as a fan lately, with the former you get the sense that he's not prepared to fight in a battle as he expects to dominate and win whereas with the latter, he doesn't presume the win, he comes prepared to fight. Nadal makes for less nerve wracking watching I tell ya!

Posted by greenhopper 03/23/2009 at 01:40 AM

oh, wow. loved this post. thanks, Steve.

Posted by Papo 03/23/2009 at 01:51 AM

Great post, Steve. Thanks.

The match against Nalbandian and the windy final vs Murray will stick with me for a long time.

Posted by Karen 03/23/2009 at 01:51 AM

Steve, what a nice sum up! It's so touchable! Your words are touchable and Nadal as a person is more touchable. Thanks so much for letting us know more about this ture champion.

Posted by rg.nadal 03/23/2009 at 01:52 AM

Wow wow wow. Great writing.
Congrats to Rafa!

Posted by chinkyv 03/23/2009 at 01:55 AM

Steve, can I shrink you and have a mini-Steve perched nice and comfy in my head coz sometimes, you take the thoughts right out of my head and put articulate them better than I ever could have.

Loved this final right up on Rafa... regardless of me being a huge fan. I love the way he fights for everything and I thought I knew how much after watching him during the AO 2009, but he proved it again during this tournament. esp during the Nalby match.

Oh and that cookie thing cracked me up when I first read about it yesterday! Totally unexpected and it made me flove him even more. He must have looked so cute munching on cookies during a presser. Although I understand you wouldn't say cute... But you get what I mean.

*Sigh*... now I can go to bed more content. I was waiting up to see if you would post a report on the final before I got to bed and I'm glad I did. Well worth the wait :)

Off to have happy dreams about Rafa winning today :-)

Posted by alandre 03/23/2009 at 02:03 AM

steve

your article is quite an inspiration and a challenge for players like me or like any one else who does not dare to accept the things that has to be accepted and learn the basic truth in life that perfection does not exist... it's more than a gift, or perhaps a virtue of NADAL to accept his imperfections and convert it to his strength... if ROGER is mr. perfect, can we call RAFA the opposite?

Posted by Spacenoxx (El Stupido aka The Moron From Majorca) 03/23/2009 at 02:12 AM

Well, what can I say. To quote someone....

"Impossible to describe, no? I don't know. Just very happy" ---Rafael Nadal, Wimbledon 2008

Thanks Steve.

Posted by Divesh 03/23/2009 at 02:14 AM

Hi Steve,

This is the one of the best pieces on Rafa you have written. I was in Indian Wells on both Saturdays (2nd round and men's semifinals). Both days I got to see several players practicing and playing as I bought the box seats (hell who gets to see tennis that closely..my first time watching pros..so why not spend and help the economy).

The semifinal day was a lot more chilled out...half the number of ppl and his practice session was fun to watch. He practiced on the court alongside Roddick, where Ana just got done practicing. I observed how concentrated he was trying to flatten out that forehand and practice playing aggressively against Roddick who has become more of a defensive player lately. He was also practicing his heavy topspin crosscourt forehand that just looked incredible as it gave me perspective on how different his two forehands are and that is a great asset to have in your bag.

Posted by the_dragonlily 03/23/2009 at 02:23 AM

I think Rafa's greatest strength is his ability to play one point at a time. Forget the previous point, forget the situation, get to the ball and put it where you want it. Even Rafa can't think that way all the time, but he's better at it than anyone else I've seen.

It was interesting to watch what he did to Murray. You can tell whether the quality of Murray's next point is going to be good or not by whether he's wearing his falcon expression. The falcon face was missing a lot more than usual in this match.

Posted by Jenn 03/23/2009 at 02:24 AM

Steve, I read a lot about Rafa and this is one of the best pieces I have ever read about him because it is very insightful. I think you really nailed it - the essence of Rafa. His unequaled ability to keep moving forward, being positive, and accepting all circumstances, while others look sideways and back. His mentality stands in very stark contrast to what it seems like Federer is going through right now.

Posted by Max 03/23/2009 at 02:26 AM

Steve, this is the first time I read one of your articles and I will be comming back to this website just to read you. Great writing!

Posted by Tony 03/23/2009 at 02:30 AM

"Nadal's most important strength is the one that's the hardest for all of us to achieve. He has the strength to be honest with himself."

That just about says it all. That is why Nadal is the perfect anti-Federer. He is the perfect anti-perfect. That is also the reason why he has outstripped Federer in the past year or so...

Posted by Rory 03/23/2009 at 02:50 AM

Got to see Rafa-Nalbandian and Fed-Verdasco this week in person and had a great time. Huge Roger fan but I think it is time for everyone to accept that Roger isn't Roger anymore (including Roger). He is still amazing, but there are 2 players out there who have dominated him head-to-head. I'd still take 2005 Roger over Murray and Nadal, but he isn't that player anymore. Too many unforced errors, and like this article points out, is unwilling to alter his game to beat Rafa. I wonder every year when I watch the French final if Roger listens to the commentators, I hope he listened to them at the Australian, because Roger has to make some changes in his approach to beat Nadal.

Posted by Furia 03/23/2009 at 02:53 AM

If Roger is Mr. Perfect, Rafa is Mr. Competitive

Posted by SRao 03/23/2009 at 03:02 AM

Steve..Thanks for all those posts...This sums up everything about the great man-Rafa.I'm a stuanch Fed fan and struggling to accept Fed's sorry state of affairs.Till today I cannot accept how good Nadal is,actually!But...but...i bow down,Nadal is by far very superior...his strokes are brilliant[that was a term associated only for-Fed!] Besides being a great tennis player,i think he is by far a wonderful human being!

Posted by jewell - Make tea, not war. 03/23/2009 at 03:05 AM

I'm going to look at this post every time I feel down from now on. :)))

I've loved all your IW coverage, Steve, thank you so much!

Posted by SRao 03/23/2009 at 03:07 AM

Rory...how true!!Roger is NOT Roger anymore.The day Roger realises it,it's better for him and for his fans...and ofcourse for Tennis too.It's painful to watch him play offlate.Period.

Posted by zolarafa 03/23/2009 at 03:11 AM

Steve,
I think quite like Rafa, you are an "artist" with your job. You write so beautifully that it goes beyond tennis. It touches the soul. Doesn't matter who and what the subject is. Of course I get double delighted when you write about Rafa and this one was one of the best. Thanks. ( but still waiting to read your thoughts about Rafa-Nalby match!)

Posted by rafa4ever 03/23/2009 at 03:12 AM

Steve, you rock!
It's an honor to see live how Rafa pulled off a Houdini to beat Nalbadian this year and refuse to lose to Tsonga last year in IW as well. All the crowd supports were amazing. He is an inspiration in more than one way.
So lucky to get autographs after Nalby's match and one from Vera. Congrats to both men and women's champions.
Fully enjoy reading Steve's posts as well as the humerous TWibes'.
Rafa, you rock!

Posted by Celly 03/23/2009 at 03:17 AM

Steve, you da man. Really wonderful stuff. Finally someone gets 'it' about Rafa.

Posted by kleyr 03/23/2009 at 03:22 AM

steve

i was looking forward to your post on the final of IW. didn't disappoint me. it was very insightful.

i've always thought that rafa's main arsenal is his mental fortitude. forget about FH and BH, physicality etc. etc. in the end it's always his mental honesty and attitude that carries him to where he is now.

Posted by Ivo 03/23/2009 at 03:25 AM

This is a nice post and I, as many out there, admire Rafa incredibly. It took me a while to appreciate his style..especially a few years back and had problems with it. Well his game has actually changed and what I see now is a much complete player and thus closer to my tennis tastes. I like the fact that he can volley too, flatten out his strokes when he needs to, that he dictates rather than waits only. That's what bugs me about Andy Murray's game. I like the development of Rafael Nadal.
And yet, the article that has Steve posted seems to me a bit like all the articles I've read before about those who were riding the "big wave". It's an article that's so easy to buy into because Rafa really seems to be so non-conflictual, especially with himself and his environment around him. Someone who's got a very positive outlook, who forgets fast, concentrates well etc etc etc. Honestly, a lot of that could have been said about many of those who were "riding the wave of current invincibility". Remember how everybody, only 2 years ago talked about the mighty Fed: the best coach and player in one person (who would say such a nonsense today?), a guy who manages his environment brilliantly (does he still?) , who handles media, who's a great gentleman (well he is but his recent comments and pressers reveal quite something else), the man who's got the best support from his inner circle and Mirka especially (well wouldn't we say today that Mirka seems to harm him than help?)...etc. etc. etc. You probably see might point now.

If someone is enjoying such a success as Rafa currently is, all these superlatives and descriptions above come easy and sell well (sorry Steve, but they really do). But I remember Rafa getting down on himself quite a bit too; I remember that frustrations got the better of him as well.E.g. in the 5th set in Wimbledon in 2007 Rafa, after having not converted the many breakpoints offered to him in the 2nd and 4th game, his game disintegrated. It is not that long ago..even if it seems an enternity now. That final, I remember quite well for I thought that Rafa should have won it. That Federer somehow came out of it victorious in the 5th (at that time this was still attributed to his genius) was for me quite a bit of luck and due to Rafa's own letdown. I also saw Rafa loosing against Youzhny or Berdych and none of these descriptions above would perfectly fit.
Don't get me wrong: I have great respect for Rafa and I have really become to like him. But I am cautious about overanalyzing his wonderful character at a time when he's on top of the "biggest tennis wave". For when you are on top, you always look so much better and anything you do.
That said, I am excited to see how this champion will do in the years to come. Tennis has been beautiful in recent years...when Sampras left the stage, no one could image that someone could appear so fast to topple all his achievement. And yet Federer managed to change this in a few years. And definitely, only 2 years ago no one was truly thinking that Rafael Nadal would soon be the talk of the day --- in terms of the GOAT debates. Yes, we have already seriously begun to speculate: Gee, this guy is 22, has 6 grandslams and 13 Masters (just one less than Fed) and no visible competitor for the future (at least on clay). How far can this go? If we are conservative and say that he will win only 1 major each year, by the age of 27 he'll have 11 grand slams and God knows how many Masters. Isn't thus Federer not only a transitory stage between Sampras and Nadal?
I don't have answers to this and I think that such thinking would be considered totally insane rally only a few months back. Not anymore. And yet, a few months from now on many things can change again. Fascinating, fascinating....

Posted by Ivo 03/23/2009 at 03:27 AM

This is a nice post and I, as many out there, admire Rafa incredibly. It took me a while to appreciate his style..especially a few years back and had problems with it. Well his game has actually changed and what I see now is a much complete player and thus closer to my tennis tastes. I like the fact that he can volley too, flatten out his strokes when he needs to, that he dictates rather than waits only. That's what bugs me about Andy Murray's game. I like the development of Rafael Nadal.
And yet, the article that has Steve posted seems to me a bit like all the articles I've read before about those who were riding the "big wave". It's an article that's so easy to buy into because Rafa really seems to be so non-conflictual, especially with himself and his environment around him. Someone who's got a very positive outlook, who forgets fast, concentrates well etc etc etc. Honestly, a lot of that could have been said about many of those who were "riding the wave of current invincibility". Remember how everybody, only 2 years ago talked about the mighty Fed: the best coach and player in one person (who would say such a nonsense today?), a guy who manages his environment brilliantly (does he still?) , who handles media, who's a great gentleman (well he is but his recent comments and pressers reveal quite something else), the man who's got the best support from his inner circle and Mirka especially (well wouldn't we say today that Mirka seems to harm him than help?)...etc. etc. etc. You probably see might point now.

If someone is enjoying such a success as Rafa currently is, all these superlatives and descriptions above come easy and sell well (sorry Steve, but they really do). But I remember Rafa getting down on himself quite a bit too; I remember that frustrations got the better of him as well.E.g. in the 5th set in Wimbledon in 2007 Rafa, after having not converted the many breakpoints offered to him in the 2nd and 4th game, his game disintegrated. It is not that long ago..even if it seems an enternity now. That final, I remember quite well for I thought that Rafa should have won it. That Federer somehow came out of it victorious in the 5th (at that time this was still attributed to his genius) was for me quite a bit of luck and due to Rafa's own letdown. I also saw Rafa loosing against Youzhny or Berdych and none of these descriptions above would perfectly fit.
Don't get me wrong: I have great respect for Rafa and I have really become to like him. But I am cautious about overanalyzing his wonderful character at a time when he's on top of the "biggest tennis wave". For when you are on top, you always look so much better and anything you do.
That said, I am excited to see how this champion will do in the years to come. Tennis has been beautiful in recent years...when Sampras left the stage, no one could image that someone could appear so fast to topple all his achievement. And yet Federer managed to change this in a few years. And definitely, only 2 years ago no one was truly thinking that Rafael Nadal would soon be the talk of the day --- in terms of the GOAT debates. Yes, we have already seriously begun to speculate: Gee, this guy is 22, has 6 grandslams and 13 Masters (just one less than Fed) and no visible competitor for the future (at least on clay). How far can this go? If we are conservative and say that he will win only 1 major each year, by the age of 27 he'll have 11 grand slams and God knows how many Masters. Isn't thus Federer not only a transitory stage between Sampras and Nadal?
I don't have answers to this and I think that such thinking would be considered totally insane rally only a few months back. Not anymore. And yet, a few months from now on many things can change again. Fascinating, fascinating....

Posted by Ivo 03/23/2009 at 03:32 AM

I am very sorry for the double post!!! It's happened to me for the second time and I don't know exactly why.

Posted by Spacenoxx (El Stupido aka The Moron From Majorca) 03/23/2009 at 03:36 AM

There is no godly intervention (a.k.a typepad acting up) here Ivo. You probably pressed post twice when you immediatly didnt see your post. It happens to all of us :-)

Posted by Hiram 03/23/2009 at 03:45 AM

Nadal has always made me think of "the warrior" as explained by Don Juan Matus in Carlos Castaneda's books.

" Warriors do their utmost, and then, without any remorse or regrets, they relax and let the spirit decide the outcome."

and

"For a warrior everything begins and ends with himself. However, his contact with the abstract causes him to overcome his feeling of self-importance. Then the self becomes abstract and impersonal."

Posted by sic (Roland Garros, Wimbledon and AO) 03/23/2009 at 04:05 AM

"These two answers, about finding ways to win and accepting the conditions around him, point to what I think is, beyond his speed and spin and power, a major reason for Nadal's success. Unlike most tennis players, even the best tennis players, he doesn't play with anger or regret or frustration, the three emotions that doom most of us."

Truer words have never been written, congratulations.

I think the other aspect of Rafa that sets him apart from the rest of the pack is his ability to live in the moment in an almost Zen like way. In his Spanish interview after the match the interviewer was raving about all his titles and how he almost lost to Nalbandian and then won the tourney and then mentioned Miami. Rafa just kind of laughed and said, yeah well "the great thing about tennis is that even if you lose in the first round, a week later you can start over with everyone at zero again; then he grinned even wider and said, "and the worst thing is that when you win, you only enjoy it for a moment then you go on to the next tournament and start again at zero."

I think that statement gives a lot of insight into Nadal's success to date.

Posted by streams 03/23/2009 at 04:09 AM

Thanks for the beautiful article and photo of Rafa. A great man and not just a machine as some people say. I love his attitude to the game, to other people, and to winning and/or losing ... also a big credit to U. Toni too I think. Hope the money and the madness of being at the top doesn't make him lose all these good qualities as a person.

Posted by Aurora 03/23/2009 at 04:17 AM

Thank you, Steve! Your analysis about what makes Rafa the great athlete that he is is spot-on. Great writing :)

Posted by Norbert 03/23/2009 at 04:32 AM

Wow Steve! Great post, thank you!

I had the honor meeting Rafa in person last Monday in the player's restaurant at the Indian Wells Tennis Club. I showed him a picture of my 3 years old son and told him our story.

I told him that my wife was 8 months pregnant at the time we were watching Rafa play (and win) his first Roland Garros final. Until then, we could not come up with a name for our soon to be born son. Watching him play his first Grand Slam final, we were totally in love with his game, his looks and his personality. During the match I suggested to my wife to name our son after this inspiring young man who had really impressed us so much at his young age. My wife thought this was a great idea and since June 24 2005 we have our own little Rafael.

Rafa was listening all the time, signed my son's picture and thanked me for telling him our story, he wished us good luck for the future! What a guy!

Posted by azinna 03/23/2009 at 04:33 AM

Awesome writing and insight, Steve!

Posted by vic 03/23/2009 at 04:40 AM

The day Rafa decides to hang his racket would be a sad day indeed. Rafa inspires--yes, even non-tennis players like me. What is so fascinating about him is that despite his amazing wins and heartbreaking losses, he still retains his hopefullness, his courage, and his humanity. He is not a god, not even a demi-god. He is quite simply a human being--a beautiful human being--who relishes the wins and learns from the losses.

Posted by plainsong 03/23/2009 at 05:01 AM

I might state the obvious but watching Rafa play these days is sooo much better than 5 or even 20 chocolate cookies. And definitely doesn't give you indigestion the next day :)
Also, it feels like incorporating Rafa's attitude and approach into my own life would be really effective in so many ways it's almost shocking. But somehow, I don't feel shocked at all.

Thank you for another great piece Steve. Can't wait for more.

Posted by silvamine 03/23/2009 at 05:26 AM

So well said Steve, so well observed, from such a human perspective. Its one thing to watch Rafa play and be captured by his dynamism. Then you catch a couple of interviews and pick up some charm and become interested to find out more about him. The Mallorca family story unfolds and as time goes by you watch him grow into today's man. In my experience (can I say quite long and sometimes painful) - its a rare human being who can be honest with themselves. You captured it beautifully. I feel so happy to be watching this work (of art) in progress. Vamossssss Rafa!!!

Posted by RafaFan-San Juan 03/23/2009 at 05:26 AM

Excellent writing, Steve! Behind the supposed "muscular", "swashbuckling" and "powerful" facade built up by the media, there lies as fine a tennis intellect as we have ever seen---and an even finer human being. You've been on to it for some time now, but other writers in your excellent publishing organization (who shall remain nameless) have yet to see the light...but they soon will! By the way, Rafa is an excellent single-digit handicap golfer (check out the recent Rafa-Freddy Couples Indian Wells golf-outing video in YouTube). Of course, Rafa plays golf right-handed. Which makes me think that it would be intriguing to watch a golf match between the great Ivan Lendl, who is a scratch golfer and plays golf left-handed, but is right-handed, against Rafa who plays tennis left-handed, strikes the golf ball right-handed, and is really right-handed... :-)

Keep up the excellent writing!!

Posted by svelterogue 03/23/2009 at 05:35 AM

*applauding steve*

what a beautiful RAFA post! i enjoyed watching the final against murray, seeing how he adjusted and played in the imperfect conditions... i remember thinking that the blustery conditions made the bounces "imperfect" as they are on grass and clay... and rafa took like fish to water in such adverse conditions. he looked more relaxed today than he did against roddick. i wish i had seen the match against david... whose heart he must have broken when he eked out that second set win!

thank you, steve.

(as for roger, he and nole are more alike than people will admit.)

Posted by silvamine 03/23/2009 at 05:41 AM

Oh, and yes agree Hiram - very like the Don Juan warrior - good analogy

Posted by Nick 03/23/2009 at 05:41 AM

Thank you nadal for your hard work. I hope this seasons bring you nothing but ups.

Posted by svelterogue 03/23/2009 at 05:42 AM

ivo

so now roger the surly is becoming manifest to you. i submit that he's always been like that. that was my first impression of him back in FO 2005 when i saw him lose to rafa in the semifinals. he would whing and whine about the same conditions that made him lose during last year's wimbledon.

it's easy to be gracious when you're king of the hill. now let's see how the former king handles the walk down, greeting the likes of murray and nole along the way as they trudge past him, eagerly eyeing the mountaintop.

as for rafa, well, he's always had a larger perspective of himself and the game, something that has drawn many fans to him.

amazing rafa. king rafa.

Posted by MC 03/23/2009 at 05:54 AM

Nice post Steve, Thanks! and you are right! That's why I like Rafa a lot because he shows that you can do thinks, you don't need to be born with all capabilities you can learn and you can develop them but it's up to you what you do. Rafa is a true champion and I can't believe that Federer keeps saying that he doesn't believe in weaknesses!

Posted by Charlie 03/23/2009 at 06:15 AM

really like this article. One of the best I've read on tennisworld. Thanks.

Posted by daylily 03/23/2009 at 06:21 AM

steve -- saw your post first thing this a.m. on vb.com and rushed here to express my relief and joy that finally someone over here has "got" rafa. thank you for your beautiful words -- actually, not the first approbation you've written of rafa -- but definitely the one with the lightest touch, one that is the literary version of rafael's own sweet hands that you describe.

only these perfect words would bring me here again to tennis.com. my heart is full today that rafa could celebrate his victory without having to apologize for it, a win that was a battle for both players, a victory on hard court -- all of it means so much.

thank you again and hello to all my erstwhile friends here whom i do miss.

Posted by Or 03/23/2009 at 06:34 AM

Lovely post, and I agree with it.

Rafa is adorable, I will always be a Roger Kad, but yeah - hard to hold it against Rafa, even Roger seems unable to.

Posted by ava 03/23/2009 at 06:41 AM

The article is pure genius. I don't think I've read anything which throws as much insight into Rafa and his character like this one. The key to Rafa's success is undoubtedly his ability to admit his mistakes, learn from them and adapt. I hope he keeps doing that for a LONG time.

Posted by reggie 03/23/2009 at 06:45 AM

What observations. What analysis. View from the pressies who see them all, day in, day out, tournaments after tournaments, following so many players, so many occasions, on and off court, up and down, high and low, in public or alone, from teens to veterans, from losers to champions, or vice versa, view within and without. Pressies, they hv seen it all. What a view. what a perception.
And this is the true inspirations from Nadal: you don’t need to be a born instinctive genius to beat the best, and BE the best! Nadal always admits the huge challenges and difficulties before him but says, ‘I try my best”, It brings tears to my eyes because, Nadal, he truly, honestly mean every word he said as he runs down every point at every match. He was clearly injured and unable to play at the final in Rotterdem. But he battled through even down to 0-6 in the final set, not taking any of Andy’s victory away - Nadal, he brings a whole new meaning to the word “Inspiration”
Thanks, Steve for bring in your wonderful observations and inspirations from this endearing, honourable, bona fide great champion, Rafael NADAL, GOAT or not, he surely will go down history as one of the most inspiring champions of all!

Posted by susan 03/23/2009 at 07:13 AM

that's a beautiful photo of nadal. his spirit shines through. nadal's zenlike remarks (a bit like uncle tony there) in pressers should all be gathered and compiled into one source. i'm a great admirer although i have been a federer fan for some time. agree with the poster who said he's a 'competitor savant' who just happens to play tennis. beautifully stated.
thanks for the article steve. please post again at another tournament.

Posted by jetsetter 03/23/2009 at 07:35 AM

Another nice article Steve. For me, Rafa is unique tennis player among them all..His success and every win came from the power of strength and fighting spirit..I called HIM simply the best...Vamos Rafa and more power and congratulations once again..

Looking forward for more unbelievable attacks and biting trophies.
From all your avid fans in K.L Malaysia,,we love you.

Posted by Sara 03/23/2009 at 07:36 AM

nice post.

Posted by Hazel 03/23/2009 at 07:37 AM

First, that picture is just gorgeous!

Fangirling aside, thanks for the article. I just don't see Rafa as a great tennis player but also an inspirational character. Everytime I think that he couldn't make me admire him more like his AO expolits, he comes out in the Rotterdam Final playing with one leg then to IW saving 5 match points to win the match and eventually win the title. He just inspires me to go out there and not be afraid of failure, do my best with a smile and a cookie or two. :)

Posted by gabriela valentina(NADAL, Death Cheater) 03/23/2009 at 07:41 AM

FINALLY! somebody who has come the closest to explaining what Rafa is all about and what his greatest asset is. Beautiful,insightful, clear and right smack on the middle of that nail!!!

For years now ,I have been wondering why it was taking everybody so long to understand Rafa. I can't fathom why it is only now that those journos at the pressers are discovering the many boyish charms and delightfully winsome facets of Rafa's character. One of the nicest things about him is that he basically hasn't changed since he first started to play professionally. He was that way 5 years ago and only now are these jokers catching on? What does that say about sports journalism as a profession on the whole? They should all be made to read Steve's article!!!

Rafa's basic character is the also the key to understanding his game and his ability to take one game at a time and to shrug off losses. His closeknit family and his traditional Mediterranean upbringing have given him a rock soiid foundation which a little thing like fame and fortune are not going to shift. Rafa will never(I hope ) torture himself over failings. He is happy within his own skin and it would take more than losing a tennis match(ANY tennis match ) to change that. And that is a formidable weapon he takes out there on court every time.


Posted by frances 03/23/2009 at 07:42 AM

steve you never disappoint... now i feel much much better that there's another piece i could keep on reading

Posted by gabriela valentina(NADAL, Death Cheater) 03/23/2009 at 07:48 AM

After the Olympic gold medal win and when she had come straight from hugging Rafa and passing him her own cell phone with her husband the King on the other end,our Spanish Queen (Sofia) looked into the TV camera and uncharacteristically spoke into an open microphone: "We must all cherish this boy while we have him because he represents what's best about us and we will not always be so lucky as to have him around forever. Enjoy him while you can."(quoting from memory so I may have got it wrong but that was the drift of her words)

Rafa still dripping from the shower and with the Gold medal around his neck just looked incredibly young and very sheepish.....

Posted by Corrie 03/23/2009 at 07:49 AM

Thank you Steve, for helping me, a staunch Fed fan, appreciate and understand Nadal a lot more. Actually, I think Rafa does get frustrated at times - for instance, I remember his looks when he was getting beat by Tsonga in 08 AO, but the point, is he never stops trying and doesn't allow the feelings to overwhelm him. I think Uncle Toni deserves a lot of credit for his very intelligent efforts in helping to shape the person and player Rafa has become.

Posted by sabrina(vampire nadal) 03/23/2009 at 07:54 AM

vamos rafa u r the best

Posted by aussiemarg [Madame President in Comma Rehab for 2009] 03/23/2009 at 07:58 AM

Steve you Nailed it about Rafa full stop.

Never have I seen a young man of just 22yrs of age with the incedible insight and hindsight like he has.To have 6 Grand Slam titles,13 Master Series titles,33 title wins under his belt tells it all.

In years to come we will be still talking about the Spaniard Rafa Nadal.

The tennis world dsoent get players like him too often.

Enjoy!

Posted by Cheryl 03/23/2009 at 08:00 AM

Steve, that was a fantastic entry. And I think you're right - Nadal has been a participant in some of the most dramatic matches I've ever seen.

Posted by gioconda 03/23/2009 at 08:03 AM

At last [hear Etta James singing in the backgound?]

At last.

Rafa gets the respect he's earned.

This guy is the real deal, and Mr. Tignor has pretty much nailed why.

Rafael stays in the "now". He's kind of a guru.

He does not dwell on the past or the future.

Tio Toni taught his nephew many wise lessons, and he's grown into an incredible young man.

I hope he's stays around a long, long time.

Posted by Hussain 03/23/2009 at 08:09 AM

I think rafa is far more better player than before.

Posted by maedal (Vamos Rafa and the Armada!) 03/23/2009 at 08:20 AM

thank you, Steve, for the appreciation of Rafa. Insightful, well crafted writing as always.

daylily! good to see you back here! our boy did great, no?

Posted by TennisFan2 03/23/2009 at 08:21 AM

Great article Steve and good call on the tournament outcome - you nailed this one.

What a refreshing article on Rafa and a great picture. Rafa fans did not enjoy this press after his first hard court GS - instead we were inundated with weepy TMF articles and pictures. It's nice to see Rafa celebrating. He's a champion but also a very young man who is an athelete first - just look at the way he spends his downtime "single digit" golf, soccer (and don't forget the passion for video games). He is able to compartmentalize - he practices and plays tennis hard but then puts it aside and enjoys his time with whether it's with family or friends. Perhaps this gives him the mental edge he needs - tennis is not his 24/7 and he clearly has outlets for other interests.

Posted by NDMS 03/23/2009 at 08:24 AM

Wonderful article, Steve.

Steve wrote: "Unlike most tennis players, even the best tennis players, he doesn't play with anger or regret or frustration, the three emotions that doom most of us."

Well said. Nadal is a constructive person versus destructive. I'm sad to say that at the moment one of my favorites, Djokovic is being destructive. He plays with these three emotions that Steve mentioned: anger (with his parents against the crowd, why doesn't everybody love me?), regret (if I only wrested the #2 position from Nadal at two semifinals, Hamburg and FO?) and frustration (if I can't win in straights and without a sunburn, why bother?).

Steve wrote: "It looks like they're playing paddleball with magnetized racquets."

Hilariously true. Some points are so "sissified" I had to laugh. Nadal was all-business but he couldn't rescue the quality of the match with the wind and Murray being bothered by the paper that blew in the court and unable to adapt to the conditions. At one "sissified" point, Goodall said "if this is all what it takes, I can be down there." Koenig said something like "I was thinking the same thing."

Posted by MEL711 03/23/2009 at 08:26 AM

I still believe Nadal is the least appreciated 6 time major winner in history. He still goes into these non-clay finals as the underdog, is never mentioned as an all-time great. He may well go down as the greatest ever, but seemingly no-one would ever ackowledge it.

Posted by Joe 03/23/2009 at 08:29 AM

Yesterday the commentators during the match were awful, besides unequivocably tipping Murray to win the final and to say that this one is better player than Nadal in differents courts, I would like to konow wich one, clay?? I don't think so, grass? I don't think so neither, hard?? definitely not
One of them (I don't remember his name) was talking about Hewitt, then Nadal made (perform) two grat points, and the commentator still was talking about the same subjet, embarrassing!!!

Posted by lucho 03/23/2009 at 08:33 AM

..... and getting better and better, Hussain @ 8:09 am!

Great post, Steve. You've distilled the essence of him. I've often wondered why tennis hacks haven't found out long before now what the Rafael Nadal philosophy and personna is really like from the many enlightening interviews with him that have been translated from the Spanish and posted at VamosBrigade.com over the past few years.

You've got Queen Sophia's Olympic quote spot on 'gabriela valentina'@ 7:48 am.

Posted by gabriela valentina(NADAL, Death Cheater) 03/23/2009 at 08:35 AM

Some of the posters who have enjoyed Steve's article might also enjoy this brief encounter which took place last night right after the match,courtside,seconds after shaking the umpire's hand and which I saw on Spanish TV:

Space.cadet style Spanish journalist skips up cries"Rafa!Rafa! Well,now are you going to go to Miami to win that title too?"

Rafa cocks an expressive eyebrow in spontaneous surprise but smiles and says: "Well, what I know is that from here I have to go and play the first round of the tournament...."

Journalist gives silly giggle (obviously knows nothing about tennis)and waggles mike.

Rafa takes pity on her and helps her out.

"The best thing about tennis is that if you lose (whicjh is why losing is no big deal), you still can start over again the next day in the next tournament from the first round.....Well,that's also the worst thing about tennis. If you win, it only counts on that day and then the next day, in the next tournament, you also have to start all over again, from the first round!" (gives the girl a wry, disarming Rafa grin!)
............................................................................................................

Doesn't that say it all? Doesn't that illustrate what Steve has described,his attitude towards winning and losing?

Posted by skip1515 03/23/2009 at 08:37 AM

Steve, thanks for the reports from IW, they've been top shelf. Isn't it the Executive Editor's perogative to cover Miami on site, too?

I think a slight disservice is done to Federer in your comments; I don't say that from a fan's perspective, but rather from considering that what we see now – an apparent stubborness to accept the need for change – was not in our view when Federer was on a roll. What we did get to see was his acceptance that *eventually* he was bound to lose. He knew it, and wasn't shaken by the prospect or when it happened. Conversely, there was a world full of Chicken Littles who thought Armageddon had arrived.

I gave him credit for having a balanced view of his position then (as if he needed my approval), and think it's still warranted today.

Which takes nothing away from Nadal. Quite the contrary: the athletic world is fortunate to have had the last few years with two such fine men at the top of a sport.

Thanks again for the pleasure of reading your work. With a nod to Updike's Wimbledon, these tales from IW might be your first Big Four title.

Posted by Master Ace 03/23/2009 at 08:38 AM

Steve,
Great article on Rafael.

Roger dominated the game from Wimbledon 2003 to 2007 losing only single digits(2004-2007)matches and was an odds on favorite to break Pete GS titles and Andre Masters titles. Even though Rafael was winning a lot of matches, he still did not get to number 1 so he knew that the only way to get there was to win Slams on HC and grass. Therefore, he did to accelerate his learning on those surfaces and it has paid off with a Slam at AO and Wimbledon.

As of now, it looks Rafael(13 titles) is going to be the one to catch Andre Masters titles at 17 quicker than Roger(who has 14). Even if Roger catches and/or pass Pete Slam titles, Rafael, provided he remain healthy, will catch Pete and Roger. If he wins a career and/or calendar Slam and win the most Slams in history, Rafael will be the GOAT hands down.

Posted by cavedweller 03/23/2009 at 08:39 AM

Steve - Thanks for capturing the essence of Nadal, man and player.
Personally, I find Rafa the man equally as intriguing and admirable as Rafa the player. Somehow Kipling foresaw Rafa when he wrote the lines emblazoned at Wimbledon, "IF.."
It's Nadal's philosophic cast of mind that should keep him on top for as long as his body holds up. And don't we know that when his inevitable decline comes about, it will be handled just as gracefully as the ascent?
But I still do miss the biceps...

Posted by Master Ace 03/23/2009 at 08:41 AM

Forgot to say that Roger said that he better win the Slams now before Rafael takes them. This was in his Wimbledon 2007 speech.

Posted by zilbed 03/23/2009 at 08:46 AM

I grew up just outside Boston and loved the Red Sox and Bruins. To me, tennis was a game not a sport, played at country clubs by rich kids. I did watch it sometimes, Wimbledon finals and Us Open, especially during the Red Sox annual fall swoon, but it never excited me. Fast forward to Spring 2006 when I saw a brief piece about Roland Garros on ESPN, its centerpiece was Rafael Nadal. His appearance struck me immediately. He seemed so different from my perceptions of tennis players. I followed tennis more closely, especially whenever I had the chance to see Nadal. What struck me the most was the way he played, giving his all for every strike of the ball. He reminded me of my favorite players in baseball and hockey, sacrificing his heart, mind and body to the competition. He took himself out of the real world and put himself into the only thing that mattered, the competition.
I have since come to not only appreciate tennis and tennis players, but also to love the sport. As a sports fan in the US, I have become impatient with many athletes who think they are bigger than the game. This was most evident after the Super bowl when a player who made a catch for the winning touchdown was afterward quoted as saying, "I always wanted to be a super star and now I am". This was after one catch. In contrast, after Nadal won the Australian Open and all fans know what he did, when all praise was being showered upon him by the tennis world, he said, simply, "I am the same person I was five hours ago".

There are many things to admire about Rafael Nadal and I become more of a fan every day. So, I just want to say, 'thank you very much'.

Posted by susan 03/23/2009 at 09:01 AM

both goodall and koenig after the federer loss (ha, i can't say 'murray win'!) predicted without hesitation that murray would win the final. (koenig especially seems enraptured with murray of late).

i like to listen to goodal ("inch-perfect"), so not disturbed by this, but was surprised by their confidence in murray and questioned their judgement about nadal's resilience (given that he had already lost to murray three times).

anyone seeing nadal's atp interview and his statement about the nalbandian match that was coming up (he quickly conceded to the interviewer, yeah, i've lost to him but on the other hand, "I have great motivation'" ) could sense the quiet determination and the desire. (but no angst)

reminds me of an (OLD) video of nadal at a presser when he brusquely (well almost) interrupted a journo who was prefacing his question about hard courts with something to the effect that he had not won against federer on hc.

before the guy could finish his sentence, Nadal quickly lifted his hand and his index finger and corrected him, ( smiling, but slightly annoyed): No,I've beaten him twice.. competitor par excellence.

Posted by susan 03/23/2009 at 09:01 AM

both goodall and koenig after the federer loss (ha, i can't say 'murray win'!) predicted without hesitation that murray would win the final. (koenig especially seems enraptured with murray of late).

i like to listen to goodal ("inch-perfect"), so not disturbed by this, but was surprised by their confidence in murray and questioned their judgement about nadal's resilience (given that he had already lost to murray three times).

anyone seeing nadal's atp interview and his statement about the nalbandian match that was coming up (he quickly conceded to the interviewer, yeah, i've lost to him but on the other hand, "I have great motivation'" ) could sense the quiet determination and the desire. (but no angst)

reminds me of an (OLD) video of nadal at a presser when he brusquely (well almost) interrupted a journo who was prefacing his question about hard courts with something to the effect that he had not won against federer on hc.

before the guy could finish his sentence, Nadal quickly lifted his hand and his index finger and corrected him, ( smiling, but slightly annoyed): No,I've beaten him twice.. competitor par excellence.

Posted by susan 03/23/2009 at 09:05 AM

oh, god sorry about double post. is there something weird about apologising in a third post about a double post.. typepad was flickering like mad..

Posted by Grace 03/23/2009 at 09:11 AM

Wonderful post. Pleasure to read and I think you've summed up the thoughts of many tennis fans around the world - albeit more concisely and with less swearing.

Long may Rafael Nadal continue to shine - on and off court.

Posted by ava 03/23/2009 at 09:31 AM

MA, it is indeed very ironic (and prophetic) that Federer said that he wants to win the Slams before Rafa wins them all. I just thought it was empty talk and I don't think Federer believed what he said either. But he is bang on. I do not think it would be inappropriate to say that Rafael Nadal has become the new Roger Federer albeit with a totally different attitude and approach.

Posted by linex 03/23/2009 at 09:38 AM

Nice Article Steve but as zolarafa pointed out, what I wanted was your analysis of the Rafa Nalbandian match ...

The pictures really capture Rafa´s happiness, at last he can celebrate a triumph without regrets ... Without saying sorry ...

As long as Rafa keeps healthy and hungry for every match, for every title, he will continue winnning.

Posted by ava 03/23/2009 at 09:49 AM

joe (in the previous page): the commentators were Gimelstob(who flirted with Kate Walsh the other day LIVE)and some guy named Gore. Both made asses out of themselves commentating. Murray, Murray Murray that was all. Nothing about Rafa until the very end.
I hope to never hear Gimelstob's voice again.

Posted by marie j vamos rafa en 2009 ! 03/23/2009 at 10:00 AM

steve thanks as allways, i hope you'll spread the word among journalists about rafa :)

you can't undestand rafa if you don't find out about his family, how low profile they are, how conservative and a bit old fashioned in some ways, and how they love the traditions.
for instance, it used to be very comon 40 years a go to name your first grand son by the name of his gran pa, unless grand pa had one of the awkward names of the christian calendar like in my family. well rafa is name like his grand pa, and all the boys of my family were lucky to avoid that fate.
they would never allow to grew up a kid full of himself, arrogant about what he does or about the success he's having.
rafa is proud, honest and very down to earth, because it's how his family raise him up.

this kid brings the best of what he is on and outside a court. i'm sure that steve has thousand of examples of tennis players who aren't even close to "being honest" when it comes to talk about loses, or wins.

daylily, happy to spot you around here ;)


Posted by rafadoc 03/23/2009 at 10:01 AM

Thank you Steve! I have enjoyed all of your reports from IW. Well done. Not much more to add from what other posters have commented. I would just highlight your point that Rafa doesn't expect to win. He walks out hoping to do his best and to be competitive. This is such a contrast to the overall U.S. sports mindset as we train our young athletes. I think we used to follow a more "Rafa-like" approach. The recent trend is to teach our kids they must "believe they are the best" and that this self belief is what will carry them through to the top. Rafa's approach really debunks this mindset. Maybe we should indeed be teaching our kids to "try their best" and to "try always to improve" instead. This also softens the blow of a loss. "Knowing" you are "the best" and then losing doesn't leave you with much. Knowing you have tried your best and can continue to learn and improve leaves one with the sense there is more to be done. Thanks again Steve!

Posted by Master Ace 03/23/2009 at 10:07 AM

Ava,
During the WTA final, FSN kept showing Kate Walsh. Once the ATP final came, I saw it via livestream listening to Goodall and Koenig. Speaking of the ATP final, Nadal gave us a lesson on how to play an ATP match in the wind.

Posted by Sher 03/23/2009 at 10:08 AM

>He has the strength to be honest with himself.

Excellent, Steve. Thank you.

Posted by vv_varaiya 03/23/2009 at 10:18 AM

Steve you are my favorite writer on this site... keep up the good work.

A champion like Nadal is not just a physical freak of Nature, he has a unique mental perspective (not just toughness). That said, it's hard to accept his strokes as the ones to teach. My kids are going to learn to emulate _The Federer Technique_, but I see the value in teaching Nadal's approach. I find Nadal's technique aesthetically lacking, but everything else is compelling and inspiring.

Posted by Sandra 03/23/2009 at 10:24 AM

The quality of Gimelstob's analysis and commentary never ceases to amaze me. He's so often wrong! Now, I wait to see who Gimbelstob predicts will win, and I put money on the opponent - betting against Gimbelstob's pick pays off handsomely.

Gimelstob actually said during the match that Murray is the better player than Nadal on more surfaces - what? On exactly which surfaces would that be, Justin? Murray is better than Nadal on clay - when did that happen? Murray is better than Nadal on grass - did Justin not see the 2008 Wimbledon quarter-final match between Murray and Nadal? That's 2 out of the 3 surfaces right there. And which of them is better on hardcourt - isn't that what the IW final was going to prove or at least contribute to proving?

I understand that Gimbelstob and other english-speaking commentators probably get to hang with and get great quotes from the english-speaking players, but they need to stop confusing access to and close relationships with certain players with objective analysis/commentary. Maybe they feel the need to say these things to further ingratiate themselves with the english-speaking players to maintain that access, but by doing so, they damage their credibility with fans and other viewers. I am really trying to figure out how some of these tennis commentators get and keep their jobs when they are so wrong. I guess the thought is that former tennis players know/understand the game and have relationships with the players, so they'll make good commentators. However, clearly that is not enough.

Posted by Sandra 03/23/2009 at 10:26 AM

And Gimbelstob needs to learn to keep his libido to himself and conduct himself on-air with more professionalism. Not everyone is "turned on" by his silly antics with Kate Walsh (who the heck is she - never heard of her) and the like.

Posted by Arun 03/23/2009 at 10:40 AM

A splendid post, Steve.

Posted by Aabye 03/23/2009 at 10:41 AM

Great post, Mr. Tignor. The cookie story for me sums up what makes Nadal great. It's amazing to me that this player who is so focused on the court, can be so easy-going off it.

Posted by Mack 03/23/2009 at 10:42 AM

Stephen Tignor is slowly but surely approaching Frank Deford status as a sportswriter, smoothly welding the humanity of his subjects into the narrative of win, lose, and play. Mad props!

One of my favorite Rafa quotes comes from El Pais, after he lost to Murray in Rotterdam this year. Loosely translated, he said, "It is necessary to know the valor of everything, not just the great triumphs." That is a true champion. That is our Rafa.

Posted by Vie 03/23/2009 at 10:49 AM

Thanks for writing this Steve.

Not much to add, except probably these.

I admire Rafa's generosity and respect towards other players.

He is always doing something, moving forward. Great influence for people around him.

He is very positive and not easily offended. He does not worry unduly about criticism or negative stuff from others.

Posted by sugansha 03/23/2009 at 10:50 AM

An excellent post Steve. Nadal is the darling of the moment, and even I, an ardent Fed fan has now started liking Nadal. His humility, work ethic and determination to succeed makes him a terrific role model for young atheletes everywhere.

When Nadal starts having his eventual slump, will he remain as poised then - or will the frustrations and little annoyances start showing (like they do with Fed now)? It remains to be seen.

Until then, it is Nadal's day in the sun and very well deserved.

Posted by Pica_pica ("Don't Give Up, Because You Are Loved" -- to my suffering heros) 03/23/2009 at 11:07 AM

Excellent post. This is what makes Rafa Nadal role model for all people.

Posted by dnrood 03/23/2009 at 11:07 AM

Like a previous poster I was not a huge tennis fan for most of my life. I watched snippets of the majors and only remember a few matches that I watched from start to finish. Then I started watching the FO 2005 when I was on vacation and I saw this young kid who looked different, played different, and showed emotion like no other tennis player I had seen. I have been following tennis ever since and not just Rafa, although he is still my favorite.

I think Steve's post captures why I found Rafa so appealing. Even then when he was mostly defensive and not nearly the all court player he is today, you could see the concentration and competitive fire inside him. The ability to move forward without a lack of confidence even after the worst of games or errors. Rafa is simply one of the most strong minded athletes I have ever seen.

Posted by MJ 03/23/2009 at 11:09 AM

"It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the ones most adaptive to change."
- Charles Darwin

I keep this quote on my office wall - reading Steve's post made me think of it (I think Rafa may also be the strongest and the most intelligent, but the point is that, as Steve said, his even greater strength is his desire to adapt).

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