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 ava 03/23/2009 at 11:10 AM

Sugansha-
one of the greatest things about rafa is that he so aware of the fact that one day another guy will come up and dethrone him. he has already spoken about the uncertainty of the future and how he will not always be the best. can you think of any other player of any sport who so unabashedly proclaims that.
i think it will be that attitude-the ability to admit his fallings, analyze them and overcome them-that will truly make him great. It is also the major factor that differentiates him from Fed.

Posted by lollipop 03/23/2009 at 11:14 AM

Loved this post. Rafa is an inspiration to many because his tactics on court can be applied to real life. A simple idea- being honest with yourself is so important. I always find myself in this trap- I expect too much from myself, and when I don't deliver, I am heart broken. As a singer, maintaining your nerves is just as important as practicing,etc. The same can be said of tennis. Rafa, as you said accepts his mistakes, and that he's human. He accepts adverse conditions, and doesnt get easily demoralized. i guess it just shows, that accepting that you are human, and that mistakes will happen, is important in moving past any challenge- no matter how big or small.

Great article again, Steve! Really loved the angle which you took in describing Nadal's key to success.

Posted by marron 03/23/2009 at 11:29 AM

This is the best you've written about Rafa, Steve, and that's saying something, because I've always enjoyed your thoughts on Rafael.

A lovely read - and one to save and pull out again and again. You've captured the essence of the man I adored the instant I saw him on court in 2004.

Great article, I just had to come out of lurkdom to tell you. Thank you, Steve, I'll cherish this read.

Posted by ava 03/23/2009 at 11:33 AM

strangely enough after all his triumphs and after all the praise heaped on him rafa can still smile like a 10 yr old like in the photo.
he is an alien.

Posted by gabriela valentina(NADAL, Death Cheater) 03/23/2009 at 11:33 AM

rafadoc: I think you have really got on to something in your !0:01 post. Very interesting! In fact,although I can't say enough good things about Steve's post,I have also enjoyed all the rafa incidents and quotes it has elicited from others and especially the stories people have told about themselves and how they came to appreciate tennis through watching Rafa.

Posted by Bill 03/23/2009 at 11:42 AM

Steve,

Very nice concluding article to an entertaining week of your blogs. Really enjoyed your perspective on things. And thanks for sharing all these "Rafa moments" with us. That little bit about the cookies reminds me what Uncle Tony said in the Mag interview a few months ago. And so much of Rafa's attitude and philosophy comes from his Uncle and parents. They've done a great job of raising him.

I do appreciate many of the comments I read. Ivo, as usual, has a sound perspective. Too bad he can't get past the 3rd round of a major ;) And, Ivo, I recall Fed serving well to save those 4 breakers in the 5th set of 07 Wimbeldon. But Nadal made an error or two as well and faded afterwards like you said. He's not a robot but definitely the strongest mentally on tour now.

Enjoyed Norbert's anecdote about naming his son after Rafa. And zilbert's take on coming to enjoy tennis is somewhat similar to my own tennis fan revival in recent years. Having 2 strong character guys at the top goes a long, long way in my book.

Posted by Bill 03/23/2009 at 11:42 AM

Steve,

Very nice concluding article to an entertaining week of your blogs. Really enjoyed your perspective on things. And thanks for sharing all these "Rafa moments" with us. That little bit about the cookies reminds me what Uncle Tony said in the Mag interview a few months ago. And so much of Rafa's attitude and philosophy comes from his Uncle and parents. They've done a great job of raising him.

I do appreciate many of the comments I read. Ivo, as usual, has a sound perspective. Too bad he can't get past the 3rd round of a major ;) And, Ivo, I recall Fed serving well to save those 4 breakers in the 5th set of 07 Wimbeldon. But Nadal made an error or two as well and faded afterwards like you said. He's not a robot but definitely the strongest mentally on tour now.

Enjoyed Norbert's anecdote about naming his son after Rafa. And zilbert's take on coming to enjoy tennis is somewhat similar to my own tennis fan revival in recent years. Having 2 strong character guys at the top goes a long, long way in my book.

Posted by Bill 03/23/2009 at 11:42 AM

Steve,

Very nice concluding article to an entertaining week of your blogs. Really enjoyed your perspective on things. And thanks for sharing all these "Rafa moments" with us. That little bit about the cookies reminds me what Uncle Tony said in the Mag interview a few months ago. And so much of Rafa's attitude and philosophy comes from his Uncle and parents. They've done a great job of raising him.

I do appreciate many of the comments I read. Ivo, as usual, has a sound perspective. Too bad he can't get past the 3rd round of a major ;) And, Ivo, I recall Fed serving well to save those 4 breakers in the 5th set of 07 Wimbeldon. But Nadal made an error or two as well and faded afterwards like you said. He's not a robot but definitely the strongest mentally on tour now.

Enjoyed Norbert's anecdote about naming his son after Rafa. And zilbert's take on coming to enjoy tennis is somewhat similar to my own tennis fan revival in recent years. Having 2 strong character guys at the top goes a long, long way in my book.

Posted by Bill 03/23/2009 at 11:42 AM

Steve,

Very nice concluding article to an entertaining week of your blogs. Really enjoyed your perspective on things. And thanks for sharing all these "Rafa moments" with us. That little bit about the cookies reminds me what Uncle Tony said in the Mag interview a few months ago. And so much of Rafa's attitude and philosophy comes from his Uncle and parents. They've done a great job of raising him.

I do appreciate many of the comments I read. Ivo, as usual, has a sound perspective. Too bad he can't get past the 3rd round of a major ;) And, Ivo, I recall Fed serving well to save those 4 breakers in the 5th set of 07 Wimbeldon. But Nadal made an error or two as well and faded afterwards like you said. He's not a robot but definitely the strongest mentally on tour now.

Enjoyed Norbert's anecdote about naming his son after Rafa. And zilbert's take on coming to enjoy tennis is somewhat similar to my own tennis fan revival in recent years. Having 2 strong character guys at the top goes a long, long way in my book.

Posted by Bill 03/23/2009 at 11:42 AM

Steve,

Very nice concluding article to an entertaining week of your blogs. Really enjoyed your perspective on things. And thanks for sharing all these "Rafa moments" with us. That little bit about the cookies reminds me what Uncle Tony said in the Mag interview a few months ago. And so much of Rafa's attitude and philosophy comes from his Uncle and parents. They've done a great job of raising him.

I do appreciate many of the comments I read. Ivo, as usual, has a sound perspective. Too bad he can't get past the 3rd round of a major ;) And, Ivo, I recall Fed serving well to save those 4 breakers in the 5th set of 07 Wimbeldon. But Nadal made an error or two as well and faded afterwards like you said. He's not a robot but definitely the strongest mentally on tour now.

Enjoyed Norbert's anecdote about naming his son after Rafa. And zilbert's take on coming to enjoy tennis is somewhat similar to my own tennis fan revival in recent years. Having 2 strong character guys at the top goes a long, long way in my book.

Posted by Bill 03/23/2009 at 11:44 AM

sorry for the quintruple post. this non-responsive comment system is frustrating so I end up copying my entire post incase it eats it (happened at least once in last few days) and hitting post a few times just in case before i manually refresh.

ATTN: TYPEAD ADMINS - you're comment system is not user-friendly.

Posted by deeps 03/23/2009 at 11:58 AM

The grand slam talk is premature but its no different from the grand slam talk surrounding Fed in 2006 and 2007 - probably a little more hyped up cos Rafa has won all 3 surfaces but I remember a lot of hype over Fed being the one to get the Grand Slam in 2006 especially if he manages to get past Rafa at FO. And lots of people gave him really good odds for that.

But again it is still premature - at this time last year - we were talking about how Nole was going to take the number 1 ranking from Fed and Rafa has realized his potential at number 2. Murray was not even in the conversation. Rafa has a lot more to back up his ascendancy than Nole but it is still a reminder that in this game things can change fast.

Rafa though has a really good chance to pull off the channel slam - If he is fit and close to 90% the FO should be a virtual lock - (though how ironic would it be if this is the year Fed gets the FO?)And his Wimbledon win is not like Hewitt's win - it didn't come out of nowhere - it was his third consecutive final and while the shortened grass season makes it hard to judge - by results - he is the second best grass court player on the men's side.

The big question is the US Open - he has proven he can win on the surface but he is still the most vulnerable there - its not just Murray and Fed - an in-form Tsonga or Roddick or Djoker can give him trouble plus somebody we are not even talking about yet. Basically the Grand Slam is going to rest on his weakest event and that means its nowhere close to a realistic lock the way Fed's grand slam would have been if he had won the FO.

Posted by marcela 03/23/2009 at 12:05 PM

Thank you for the great article Steve! and thanks to all the posters for their insightful comments. A great way to brighten my dull monday morning.

Sandra: "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"

word. I laugh when I read engligh-speaking journos say that Nadal is articulate in his native language.

Posted by Anhgem 03/23/2009 at 12:05 PM

This is THE BEST post so far. :)
I LOVED it.

Posted by rafarafa 03/23/2009 at 12:05 PM

To 1221: "When I saw Nadal's video at AO of him wishing in a dandelion..."

Link please?

Posted by Annie (Vamos Heavenly Creature) 03/23/2009 at 12:06 PM

Great article Steve. Thanks. Whoever was saying that gimmelstop is wrong all the time is so right! Was rewatching the match last night on FSN and was struck by how ridiculous he sounded. Much prefer the commentary of jason and robbie.

Steve: i've been harboring a wish for rafa to win the slam this year but only shared it with a few people. Now you've made it okay to openly dream for this. it would be wonderful and he's the only player that could possibly pull it off.

Posted by lois 03/23/2009 at 12:12 PM

Rafa to me is like Andre,a great baseline player,and I love them both. After Andre retired I thought that was the end an era,well I was fooled. Rafa's game is exciting-with great shoot making,
always making his opponet play that extra ball,running down everything,taking his opponets legs out and that never say die attitude. Great picture(in this article) and he is finally getting his respect as # 1. His mental ability,fighting attitude,strenght is above everyone and he always given 110 percent. I have been a fan of his since 1rt seeing him at 17,I have watched him grow to where he is now # 1. I believe he deserves his title as the BEST PLAYER in the world because he worked very,very hard to get there. This is the 2nd time Murray was built up to win a game,he ain't # 1 until he earns it.Rafa is # 1,and each time he plays he's improved something. Let's all let him be who he is,stop giving him the bad mouth until he proves other wise.
Stay Safe and Well Everyone-Please

Posted by Nick 03/23/2009 at 12:44 PM

Steve:

I got to see the Nadal/delPotro match live this year, and watching made me remember another item from your 2007 Year in Review of best moments on the tour. Your second most memorable moment in that blog post was the Rome Quarterfinal between Nadal & Djokovic, and you remarked that the press corps that day literally spun around in their seats wondering aloud if they actually heard what they thought they heard: the sound of the ball coming off the Nadal racquet. "Blistering" was the word I think you used then. That's what I heard Friday when I watched Nadal play Del Potro.

Nadal's game is best experienced live just because of that sound; a television transmission doesn't do justice to some of the shots he hits. Seeing him live gives you and appreciation for just how hard he can hit a tennis ball. A few times druing the match, his shots sounded like rifle cracks, and I'm sure they felt that way to Del Potro. That Nadal can hit a shot that hard with so much control is just mind-boggling.

Posted by Doreen 03/23/2009 at 12:58 PM

As others have said, a fantastic article which is not just another boring armchair technical analysis of the game. I have followed RAFA since 2005 closely, watching Youtube Videos, reading articles, watching all matches that are available to me. He grows on you as a person, because one can't just fake that genuine, sincere, honest and humble and almost lack of ego personna. His world doesn't include machismo and arrogance and that is what is so appealing. Everyone would want him as a friend, relative, neighbor, etc. The guy basically has no flaws. His psyche appears to be teflon coated, criticism to him are just words and he somehow at a very early age was able to transcend the petty and focus on the goal. It is so refreshing that he even exists, that it is a shame he can't be cloned. The world needs more of his type. He is a pleasure to watch, and it is the first time that I continue to think about the person who won the game, rather than just the game, as was the case with past tennis greats. Who even cared about Rod Laver's diet or hobbies or McEnroe's or Borg's or Lendl's? They were just mechanics out there with their egos and equipment. With Rafa, he somehow sucks you into his world of simplicity, innocence, wisdom, acceptance, motivation, gratitude, and thankfulness. How lucky his family and friends are to have a close relatiaonship with him. Anyway, great article, and I applaud you for being so insightful, but I believe you have been unable to escape the effect this unusual human being has on all of us. He is indeed a breath of fresh air. Too bad tennis careers are so short and we may only have him for a few more years.
Doreen

Posted by Marian wtg Rafa!!! 03/23/2009 at 12:59 PM

Thank you for the article Steve.

Regarding Rafa: it's all about heart!

Posted by sugansha 03/23/2009 at 01:03 PM

ava,

I agree, does not look likely (now) that Rafa will become grouchy when he starts slumping.

But winning everything in sight has got to make a guy feel invincible - say in 2 years, Rafa gets close to becoming the GOAT like Fed is now. Rafa might keep reminding himself that he is a normal guy after all, but it is quite possible for something called *pride* to interfere with his well-balanced ego.

Are you sure that Rafa will keep his poise, grace and humility then? Likely yes.. but only time will tell. Cheers.

Posted by marron 03/23/2009 at 01:06 PM

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=75d_zYSXX08&feature=channel_page

rafarafa: Here's the link to the vid...
Sorry for the long link, I don't know tinyurl at all. :)

Posted by Franco Ramummmo 03/23/2009 at 01:09 PM

Rafa Nadal. When I watch him play I am rivited, glued to my chair, keep the phone off the hook & postpone/cancel any meetings.
He has "That someting other", & to use an overused word, put simply "AMAZING" I'm 61 years old, been there done that bla bla bla, but my gosh this boy is glorious to watch & I'm thrilled as hell thats he's around. Rafa makes me happy.He can make me cry (Wimbledon) & he makes me happy to be alive. I have no other such "crushes" nor have I ever had such. I dream of one day watching him play, somthing I never get around to doing yet.

Posted by rafarafa 03/23/2009 at 01:20 PM

marron

Many thanks. It is a precious moment indeed.

Posted by † Hallelujah 03/23/2009 at 01:24 PM

i watch him for the ass-picking, I can't get enough of it

Posted by frances 03/23/2009 at 01:24 PM

here's my two cents...i've been digging a few archived blogs between pete and steve and can almost pick up a pattern-- steve likes nadal whilst pete likes federer:P i am well aware that fed fans actualy at times "dislikes" pete's post on federer...but it seems to me that because he likes the guy he likes to talk about him and at the same time he empathizes what Fed is undergoing-- as for Steve...he usually writes about the winner of the tournament-- doesn't fail to appreciate them ... but I seem to noticed that there's a little bit "ummppfff" in his essays when talking about nadal-- he observes his "littlest" traits because I think steve deep inside really admires the guy!!!! keep writing you two!!!!! congrats and vamost to RAFA

Posted by Annie (Vamos Heavenly Creature) 03/23/2009 at 01:31 PM

Nick: great story. thanks for sharing. would love to hear that sound in person!

Posted by Kaygee 03/23/2009 at 01:59 PM

Sugansha and Ava: I hope you never criticize the press because you both are acting like the pessimistic story-grabbing hounds - you are so negative it is appalling - can't you find it in your heart to be happy for someone? I would hate to have to live in your world where everything good has an underlying dark cloud.

Posted by rafa4thewin 03/23/2009 at 02:10 PM

How fitting would it be if rafa could win the g.s. at some point and have the final match be against fed in the U.S.O

Posted by Kaygee 03/23/2009 at 02:12 PM

Frances @ 1:24 - Totally agree with you about their preferences - however, Steve does not flaunt it the way Pete does - one of the many reasons I stay here now and stopped visiting Pete - can't stand his worship of Fed and blasting of others any longer. I don't hate Fed, I just prefer Nadal - specifically because of the person he is - but I also can't get enough of watching him compete. I have passed on Fed's matches in the past but can't pass on any match Rafa plays.

Another topic: Did anyone have a problem with FSN's schedule of broadcasting? I was at home last Tuesday planning my day around watching IW on FSN and there was no tennis until late that night ET. I also tried for the final on Sunday and had to wait until 8:00 ET when the schedule said earlier in the evening. If you had that problem let me know and how you got around it or dealt with it - reason is I just noticed that they are scheduled to do Miami next week and I don't want to be stuck again.

Posted by omar 03/23/2009 at 02:12 PM

Can we please stop with all the commentary about what Roger needs to do to get back to where he was!!! Those days are over, ladies and gentleman. ONce you lose your mental edge in a sport like tennis, you don't get it back. Assuming you didn't lose your edge due to injury or disinterest in the first place, which Roger didn't.

Agassi and Connors are the only two I can think of who did get it back, but Connors only got his edge back once Borg quit (and Rafa ain't about to quit) and Agassi's problems were due to disinterest.

For a guy like Roger, who's neither disinterested nor injured, he's completely done as a tennis champion, like an overcooked steak. He's still a threat, like Connors was always a threat after McEnroe and Borg surpassed him, but that's it. He's just a threat, and what a comment to make about a guy that at one point was being considered the undisputed GOAT. He's still a GOAT, but will never again be thought of as undisputed.

Posted by samie 03/23/2009 at 02:18 PM

Nadal knowed how to use the netural affects and make Murray lose his concentratebecause of that he won but Murray is good.

Posted by sonya 03/23/2009 at 02:29 PM

Thank you so much Steve. One of the best you've written on Rafa. Would be nice if Rafa sometimes read this blog, lol.

Posted by ava 03/23/2009 at 02:30 PM

Kaygee-
Your criticism is very much unwarranted. I was only trying to bring out why Rafa's attitude will never change. Sugansha and I were having a respectable discussion about how Rafa will behave when faced with adversity. No one is more happier than I am in Rafa's victory. I'm a huge fan of his and will always be. Your comments were very hurtful and disrespectful and I'm very offended. "story grabbing hounds" wow. Did you not read my posts??

Posted by frances 03/23/2009 at 02:55 PM

Kaygee - hhahahahah i still do read his post but cant really get excited vs if i read steve's post-- but well we cant blame him- he likes fed-- it's ok though coz we have steve:P so its even!!!

Posted by chinkyv 03/23/2009 at 02:55 PM

Steve, like I said yesterday, I loved this article.

I just wanted to post a link to these pictures I just found coz they just go to show how chill and down-to-earth Rafa is. Here he is having a moment with Roger on the practice courts during Indian Wells.

http://cowbell.typepad.com/forty_deuce/2009/03/pic-this-back-together-again.html

Posted by gabriela valentina(NADAL, Death Cheater) 03/23/2009 at 02:59 PM

AVA: it is pretty shocking that someone can treat you that way when there is nothing at all objectionable in your posts and you ave been congratulating rafa all day!!I'm sorry that you had to read that post.

Posted by Kaygee 03/23/2009 at 03:09 PM

Ava: Truly didn't mean to hurt your feelings - "story grabbing hounds" was not referring to you was referring to press.

Posted by Emma (insertwittymantrahere) 03/23/2009 at 03:11 PM

Awesome post Steve! Flove it!

Posted by Alvaro 03/23/2009 at 03:14 PM

Wonderful opinion. There is no question that Nadal, the Tornado from Mallorca, even when he is playing at the peak of his game continous to improve. He is a student of the game who does not stop learning. How much can he improve???????
The sports casts do not want to admit that they are seing probably the best tennis player ever. They are in total denial, they were saying Andy Murray was better and favorite to win the match yesterday, l.o.l.
The so call experts are like alchoholics, who unless they admit that have a problem will never be ready for the A.A. program. Idiots!

Posted by CherryNYC 03/23/2009 at 03:31 PM

Excellent, Steve.
Right on the money re: Nadal's approach v. Fed.
Nadal's emotional stability is unmatched. The very best piece of "How to Cope with Life" advice I ever got was three words: "Accept, accept, accept." Crap is going to happen. You accept it, adjust, and move on. Otherwise, the frustration and constant second-guessing and asking "why me?" will drive you to dysfunction and you'll never change for the better.
Great stuff.

Posted by Libby 03/23/2009 at 03:35 PM

So often fans only see the matches and the on-court speeches -- getting these extra insights and impressions is really a treat. Thank you for your great work, Steve.

Posted by sG 03/23/2009 at 04:14 PM

I think all of us Rafa fans should be wary of any discussions or theorizing in regards to potential GOAT-dom. The topic has been on the rise and I don't think I like it. Not that Rafa doesn't have his fair chance at achieving said height but the way the media devoured Fed over it leaves me cautious. We should be pleased, more than pleased with his past and current results, and optimistic about his future, but let's avoid the trap of 'The GOAT Complex' please. Nadal micro-plays it: one point at a time, one game at a time, one match at a time, one tournament at a time. I think the psychology of that strategy is much healthier, no?

Also, beautiful post, Steve. I read all your IW reports whether I cared for its subject or not because I knew your writing could make me care; could make me see a person, a flaw, a game in a new light. Thank you.

Posted by chuzo 03/23/2009 at 04:16 PM

well stated Steve!

Posted by chuzo 03/23/2009 at 04:16 PM

well stated Steve!

Posted by M&M 03/23/2009 at 04:36 PM

Awesome Thanks a lot, Steve. Awesome and beautiful piece. It does seem that Nadal has this brilliant, simple, honest approach to things. Besides being a great tennis player,I think he is by far a wonderful human being! He is as brilliant as the Great Pete Sampras and as Roger Federer. They have done some much for tennis and I have had great joy in watching them play. Thank you for this great and honest piece Steve!

Posted by late 03/23/2009 at 04:49 PM

first!

Posted by late 03/23/2009 at 04:50 PM

first!

Posted by Aubrey 03/23/2009 at 05:11 PM

What does "flove" mean?

Posted by Aubrey 03/23/2009 at 05:13 PM

Sorry. That question was a little obscure. Lots of people on this site say them "flove" this or that? What's that mean?

Posted by Corrie 03/23/2009 at 05:24 PM

Susan (way back), those of us in the English speaking world are far too influenced by the power of the British media, who have built Murray up to proportions to fit their desires before he has actually done anything much. It's ludicrous for any commentator to say he's better than Nadal on any surface. I'll wait until Murray beats him in a GS final first, and I won't hold my breath.

Posted by rey aquino 03/23/2009 at 05:26 PM

i love watching rafael nadal play tennis....win or lose....fortunately he wins most of the time....!!

rey

Posted by saskia 03/23/2009 at 05:34 PM

Yeah, Djokovic has the talent and strength but a shame he does not have the chutzpah or dignity of a Nadal. Roddick simply does not have the natural gift of a Nadal. and Federer, I am ashamed to say has let a little too much ego get him down in tough matches. But he is also getting old...
Viva Rafa! Who is his heir apparent?

Posted by marcela 03/23/2009 at 05:37 PM

aubrey:

def. of flove (it would get censored if I posted it) :-)
http://tinyurl.com/ch5vbq

Posted by maedal (Vamos Rafa and the Armada!) 03/23/2009 at 05:48 PM

aubrey, i'm glad you asked that question!

Posted by Aubrey 03/23/2009 at 06:01 PM

Thanks Marcela

Posted by TK 03/23/2009 at 06:08 PM

Even as a crazed Federer fan, I appreciate the body of work that Nadal is putting together. Everyday that I see Federer struggling with his inner demons and showing an inability to adapt to the rapidly changing conditions in men’s tennis, I lose a little bit of that awe. His fragility when playing Nadal and Murray is becoming a tiring song. In fact, if you look at highlights of Federer playing at the US Open against Hewitt from 2004 and today’s Federer they are different people. Gone is the creative genius, the man that could do anything with the ball and in fact relished coming up with something amazing, even if he lost the point. Today, I can’t help but feel that Federer stands there and wishes his opponent will miss. And when they don’t he gets discouraged because he feels he should win just because he is Federer. The old Federer would conjure such fear in his opponents hearts because they new that he was a true magician.

I’m still a Federer fan. The word you can omit is Diehard…

Federer needs to capture some of that inspiration that made Agassi get stronger, fitter, faster so late in his career. IMHO, as much as it pains me to say it, Federer will remain stuck on 13 and will be the guy who was almost the GOAT.

Posted by Alexa 03/23/2009 at 06:34 PM

VAMOS RAFA! KEEP IT UP BABY!

Posted by eileen 03/23/2009 at 06:53 PM

thank you so much steve. to me this is one of the best articles i have read about rafa.i am a busy mom and the only reason i touch the computer is rafael nadal.

Posted by Denis 03/23/2009 at 06:53 PM

Enjoyed your article ...... and think that Rafa Nadal will only get better as time goes by, and I do hope that he wins the US Open within the next few years.

While watching the semi-final Rafa played against Andy Roddick on Fox Sports, I could see that he (Rafa) was truly the better player. The only thing that bothered me, was Justin Gimblestob (the Fox narrater) - Gimblestob, besides being gross (had his hands allover Kate Walsh & telling her she could "work it off"), was also extremely overdoing the praise for Andy Murry (which he continued to do doing the final). Fox Sports needs to find a better tennis commentator.

After reading your article on Rafa, feel that you would be much better at commentating doing a tennis match, as your article was sincere, and not only because of the way that you spoke of Rafa, but because it actually described the feelings of many of us tennis fans after watching Rafa the past 4 years.

Thanks for a great article.

Posted by Anna 03/23/2009 at 06:54 PM

Very true and inspirational article.
Love Nadal.

Posted by Fay 03/23/2009 at 07:20 PM

Thank you so much for this post, Steve. Excellently stated!!!

Vamos, Rafa! May your reign at the top of men's tennis be long and prosperous.

Posted by Fudoshin 03/23/2009 at 07:28 PM

Steve, great piece of writing. Here's something unrelated to this article. At some point, in between tracking tournaments, would you ponder the subject of "slump"? With your insight and intellect, would you please shed some light on the phenomenon which many athletes fall prey to? Thank you.

Posted by Adi 03/23/2009 at 07:32 PM

Very nice comments
seeing Nadal's history all this time and I know its true that he is a matured man who won't let his emotions get him . That's why he won The last match LOL

As a tennis player I also find it hard not to yell to the weather =)

Posted by zolarafa 03/23/2009 at 08:31 PM

chinkyv
Thanks for that link. very nice photos indeed. like to see these two happy.

sG
Can't agree more. I get annoyed at all these GOAT talks. It seems the press wants to find something and make a hype. It if happens, they had predicted it and they are heroes. If doesn't happen, they have something to build on and destroy the player!

It is just the beginning of the season and many things can happen. I really want Rafa to do great. But first I want him to stay healthy. The rest will come. GOAT or no GOAT, GS or no GS, I can't think of any other player with so much success a young age.

Posted by Masum 03/23/2009 at 09:06 PM

Fabulous posting! I've been a Nadal fan since I saw him play in Miami in 2005 and although commentators talk about his speed and power, his mind and heart set him apart from the rest. I feel really lucky to be a tennis fan in this era, with so many great match-ups week in and week out. Certainly something to smile about in a world where lots of things are disheartening.

Posted by jetsetter 03/23/2009 at 09:10 PM

Lets all accept and face the truth,,..Its Rafa's turn...its Rafa's luck who deserved and achieve every winning game on his own style.. A young lad, who made his own name and history in tennis world...VAMOS,...VAMOS,,..We love you RAFA

Posted by dh 03/23/2009 at 09:26 PM

Great article on Rafa. It is soooo nice to see him finally get the recognition he deserves, not only as a terrific athlete and an unbelievable tennis player but as a wonderful human being. I can only think his parents and his family must be so proud. For so long there have been detractors as r/t his unorthodox style (frankly I love his style) and his idiosyncracies, now he is the finest example of a professional athlete and an absolute pleaure to watch. Vamos Rafa.....you are the best, we are so lucky to watch you play!!!

Posted by Jimmy 03/23/2009 at 10:04 PM

This is a great article, it really helped me to understand Nadal's mentality, I had no idea and once again great piece of work Steve

Posted by Really 03/23/2009 at 10:23 PM

I know it's been said before, but great work, Steve.

Posted by Denizen 03/23/2009 at 10:35 PM

Delurking to say that while I have loved all of Steve's blogs during the course of this year's Indian Wells, today's article is just magnificent. Nadal's mentality, tactics, and fortitude are inspirational to me. After a hiatus of many years, Rafa has brought me back to tennis thanks to his compelling style, his clear improvement from his level a couple of years ago (when he nevertheless was ranked #2), and his delightful personality. Enhorabuena, Rafa!

Posted by reylito cuevas 03/23/2009 at 10:44 PM

i like the way Rafa play the game. hes a thinkin man. and hes being true yo himself. if he wins, fine and if he lost its okay with him. go Rafa!!!

Posted by Yohan Chappaz 03/23/2009 at 11:52 PM

Thats exactly right. Its his humbleness that is able to let him win so many matches.

Posted by dnrood 03/24/2009 at 01:14 AM

I agree with all posters who say chill out on the GOAT talk with regards to Rafa. He's got many years to write his resume and we don't need to prematurely push this GOAT status on him. In the end the GOAT talk is for the inflating of fan's egos, not the players.

With regards to Rafa there was a time after the 2007USO that I thought Rafa would never really contend at a hardcourt major. Not for a lack of trying, but just that the surface didn't serve his natural game well. Well, I'm starting to see a player who isn't interested in just being one of/or best clay courter of all time, but a genuine all court player. I guess I should have known better having followed Rafa since 2005, but the improvement in Rafa's game is a quantam leap from those early days.

Posted by patzin 03/24/2009 at 01:30 AM

This is a fabulous article and spot on about Rafa. Thanks for putting it so concisely. The many comments here are also inspiring.

Posted by svelterogue 03/24/2009 at 03:41 AM

what daylily said.

"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."

isn't andy simply great that way? rafa could smile all he wanted, be as disarming as he could be...

i hope to see more rafa finals... against players not named roger. so that the focus universe does not go awry. it's been a long time daylily!

Posted by Duh 03/24/2009 at 03:49 AM

Duh

Posted by Jazz! 03/24/2009 at 07:07 AM

Rafa is trully a phenominal athlete, much love and respect to him!!

Posted by gabriela valentina(NADAL, Death Cheater) 03/24/2009 at 07:44 AM


ALL TRUE RAFA FANS: should read the following post by Sg and take it to heart....

sG 03/23/2009 @ 4:14 PM
I think all of us Rafa fans should be wary of any discussions or theorizing in regards to potential GOAT-dom. The topic has been on the rise and I don't think I like it. Not that Rafa doesn't have his fair chance at achieving said height but the way the media devoured Fed over it leaves me cautious. We should be pleased, more than pleased with his past and current results, and optimistic about his future, but let's avoid the trap of 'The GOAT Complex' please. Nadal micro-plays it: one point at a time, one game at a time, one match at a time, one tournament at a time. I think the psychology of that strategy is much healthier, no?

Also, beautiful post, Steve. I read all your IW reports whether I cared for its subject or not because I knew your writing could make me care; could make me see a person, a flaw, a game in a new light. Thank you.


Posted by slicktones 03/24/2009 at 08:07 AM

As a Rafa fan who was singing the young Spaniard's praises early on, when others were dismissing him as a mere dirtballer, a flash in the pan who was going to win a couple French Opens and disappear, it is great to see that so many people have come around now, recognizing what a unique, inspiring figure we have in Rafael Nadal. What a great competitor, champion, and let's not forget tennis player...and a good guy, which makes the whole package even more appealing.

Excellent article, Steve. You nailed it.

Posted by Rommel R. Legaspi 03/24/2009 at 08:25 AM

GREAT WRITING. INSIGHTFUL. YOUR REALLY RIGHT WITH YOUR OBSERVATION ABOUT RAFA. SURELY, THIS WHAT EDGES HIM WITH THE REST OF THE PACK.

ROMMEL
ZAMBOANGA CITY, PHILIPPINES

Posted by reg 03/24/2009 at 08:44 AM

Rafa has been the longest serving number 2 who won the most trophies and points as a number 2 in history, but never complains being number 2. He never ceases to praise Roger, no matter how hard he was pressed, Rafa insisted that Roger IS the greatest player.

He has won Grand Slams in 3 surfaces - including the surface he is least dominating of all, the hard court. But his glorious championship moment at AO was all taken away by the organiser's and the MC's overwhelming mourning of Roger - very rude and very cruel indeed. Never in tennis history had a newly crowned champion been treated like that as in this AO presentation in 2009. Like Roger said at Wimbledon 2008, it seemed more people (especially the organisers) cared and focused on Roger's feelings than the admiration for Rafa's greatness - that is too obvious for all to see. The English-speaking pressers, all these years, has not been paying the due attention and respects to Rafa for what he has achieved and deserves - not only as a great athlete, but like what Steve has observed here and many posts mentioning too – a rare, wonderful personality and attitude, a great competitive yet very humble, down on earth champion, not only in tennis, but as a most inspiring role model for everyone in life!

It’s very touching to read the overwhelming responses to and appreciation of this article – a truly appreciation of Rafa’s intellectual qualities rather than his physical power – after so many years – at long last !

Hope this is just the beginning for more appreciation and discovery of Rafa’s amazing qualities as the future unfolds.

Like Queen Sophie of Spain says, it’s our luck and honour to enjoy this Rafa era. Treasure and savour every moment while we possibly can!

Posted by junaid 03/24/2009 at 08:52 AM

rafa is the best

Posted by I am a better broadcaster 03/24/2009 at 09:27 AM

Posters are spot on about the poor broadcasting skills of Gimelstob. According to him, all non-american players are always "Playing at their peak" as a friend of mine said. In Rafa v/s Roddick match, according to Gimelstob, there was nothing that Rafa can do if Roddick ups his game. After all, Rafa is only the world's number one tennis player, what skills could he possess? Ha, ha.. what a joke.

Posted by lisak 03/24/2009 at 10:05 AM

Thanks so much for finally saying what I have seen years ago
when I first watch Fafa and just fell in love with his style of
tennis. Not everyone "gets" it!
Listening to Justin Gimelstob call the game sunday against Murray who he slobbered and gushed over was completely annoying.
He doesn't "get" it at all. Murray has improved his attitude but,
it was only about 1 year ago he was sulking and throwing his racquet all over the court. Nadals class and attitude has been
far above the rest since he was 19 when I saw him for the first
time. Hopefully other's will see that yes, his talent is incredible, but, his attitude is what has helped him to soar
in this sport!

Posted by Vie 03/24/2009 at 10:14 AM

Better broadcaster,

I quite agree on the commentating by Justin Gimelstob. Tuning in late, I thought at first the commentating was being done by a non-tennis analyst or something. Gimelstob was pushing an agenda to listeners. His improvisational skills and redirecting skills (those were his terms) became obvious in their deficinecy as the show went on. I shudder at the thought that someone coming off as ignorant and like a blind person, or even biased, is in the Players' Council.

Posted by Vie 03/24/2009 at 10:24 AM

Since Steve, brought out some of these Rafa sightings, I'd propose some reasons for his monstrous cookie0eating habit:

Homesick and having a lot of time on his hands... This is after all a two-week tournament, like a Slam but not a Slam. In the calm, natural, idyllic, sleep-inducing setting of those mountains, with nothing to do but golf, and hang around the same 4 friends for days, it must get a bit slow. Rafa needs something to do. So time to break the monotony in them cookies (hehe).

Posted by Tuulia 03/24/2009 at 10:42 AM

Thank you so much, Steve. The previous ones were great, but this is just fabulous, and the last sentence is perfect. Most writers -unlike you - don't actually "get" Rafa, they just go on and on about physical game, topspin, tiring his opponents, and frankly I'm tired of reading all that over and over, and so it's very refreshing to read stuff like yours.

Thank you also for the many wonderful comments here, I enjoyed reading them, too. I would also like to add my best wishes to the little Rafael and his parents.

The first time I saw Rafa he was playing football (soccer) in a charity match (2004), and it didn't take me long to decide I'd HAVE TO see him play tennis. The enthusiasm, joy, energy was palpable, and it was clear he CARED about trying his all even in a charity match where he might have been the only player (including the actual top football players) who cared so much about that match. He wasn't there just to make an appearance for the cause, he was there to play, and the result mattered to him. And he absolutely loved it. And I loved watching him. For me, after over 20 years of watching top class football, that charity match was the most important football match I ever saw. :-)

Posted by Tuulia 03/24/2009 at 10:45 AM


Thank you so much, Steve. The previous ones were great, but this is just fabulous, and the last sentence is perfect. Most writers -unlike you - don't actually "get" Rafa, they just go on and on about physical game, topspin, tiring his opponents, and frankly I'm tired of reading all that over and over, and so it's very refreshing to read stuff like yours.

Thank you also for the many wonderful comments here, I enjoyed reading them, too. I would also like to add my best wishes to the little Rafael and his parents.

The first time I saw Rafa he was playing football (soccer) in a charity match (2004), and it didn't take me long to decide I'd HAVE TO see him play tennis. The enthusiasm, joy, energy was palpable, and it was clear he CARED about trying his all even in a charity match where he might have been the only player (including the actual top football players) who cared so much about that match. He wasn't there just to make an appearance for the cause, he was there to play, and the result mattered to him. And he absolutely loved it. And I loved watching him. For me, after over 20 years of watching top class football, that charity match was the most important football match I ever saw. :-)


Posted by Tuulia 03/24/2009 at 10:51 AM

Damn... apologies for the double.

Posted by Vie 03/24/2009 at 11:15 AM

Tuulia, would be interesting to see how Rafa was back then. He was 17?

Posted by Tuulia 03/24/2009 at 12:08 PM

18 :-)

Posted by Hong Kong Rafa Fan 03/24/2009 at 12:11 PM

Steve, thanks a million for such a wonder piece. The greatest part of it is the fact that it really goes deep down to touch a lot of people's hearts, especially those fans of Nadal.

This is the first time that I've read through all the comments one by one and found so many great readings from it. Sincere thanks for everyone who wrote and shared all those thoughts and little stories about Nadal.

After losing all interests in tennis since 2000, Rafa brought me back to this sport. With such a great role model leading the circuit, I'm sure that tennis will be receiving more and more attention from people around the world!

Posted by frances 03/24/2009 at 12:29 PM

I think roger still plays really good tennis--but his excelence or his artistic play looks as if it's now more subdued because there are currently a lot of young players rising which would make him look "not so genious" compared to the 2004-2007 era. Perfect example, Nadal 2008 onwards is much more of a complete player compared to Nadal pre 2007, Murray mid 2008-onwards, is definitely playing at a much higher level compared before that.. which would elude for us to think that Federer is not paying his game when in reality it's the other player that have really evolve much more.I think he still can play the game...and maybe tolk to roddick on tips of balancing getting old but still improving the game!!!

Posted by frances 03/24/2009 at 12:30 PM

think roger still plays really good tennis--but his excelence or his artistic play looks as if it's now more subdued because there are currently a lot of young players rising which would make him look "not so genious" compared to the 2004-2007 era. Perfect example, Nadal 2008 onwards is much more of a complete player compared to Nadal pre 2007, Murray mid 2008-onwards, is definitely playing at a much higher level compared before that.. which would elude for us to think that Federer is not paying his game when in reality it's the other player that have really evolve much more.I think he still can play the game...and maybe tolk to roddick on tips of balancing getting old but still improving the game!!!

Posted by frances 03/24/2009 at 12:37 PM

And as for nadal-- I jusrt admire him as a person-- simple thoughts, simple anwers, simple life ....best wishes for your carrer rafa-- I do hope u will have a long tennis career-- and even though a lot of people worry about it.. i have this gut feeling that he will surprise everyone how much he can actually extend his career-- i think it seems that his team is already addressing this issue by always evaluating his health (rafa maymo always present to massage him:)), constantly tinkering his game (to reduce the amount of energy exerted in every game play)and keeping his routine. VAMOS RAFA!!!!!

Posted by VamosRafa 03/24/2009 at 01:50 PM

Rafa has been my favorite for four years. I have always appreciated his all-out play, whether up two sets and two breaks or down two sets and two breaks. His positive attitude of competing for every single point endears him to every sportsman. Most impressive is his constant struggle to improve rather than thinking he is number 1 and that he has arrived. Most of Federer's and Sampras' major titles came between ages 22-26. Rafa, at 22, already has six. If he stays healthy, one can only guess how many he will achieve. We all hope we get to see.

Posted by impossible is nothing! in fact. 03/24/2009 at 02:02 PM

rafa is the most inspired an exited man in the world ever he is a gift from god i always said thanks to god for this unbelievable man. i love rafa so much, when he win or when he lose for me he always be the greatest, he learn me that everything is possible! and because of him i am a better person now.

Posted by mh 03/24/2009 at 02:10 PM

Steve, that's about as good an analysis of Rafa I've ever seen. What insight! Amazing.

Posted by impossible is nothing! in fact. 03/24/2009 at 02:19 PM

rafa is the most inspired an exited man in the world ever he is a gift from god i always said thanks to god for this unbelievable man. i love rafa so much, when he win or when he lose for me he always be the greatest, he learn me that everything is possible! and because of him i am a better person now.

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