NADAL - CLAY COURT GLADIATOR OR SEXIEST MAN
A highlight of the 'one of a kind' Malaysia Independence Tennis Festival to be played on November 17-25, 2007 is the Clash of Titans featuring the world's best clay-court player and three-time French Open champion Rafael Nadal facing French star Richard Gasquet - described as the sport's most naturally talented player.
Few athletes have made as much impact on the image of a sport as Rafael Nadal. His arrival on the tennis scene as an extremely charismatic teenager with his long-hair, incredibly powerful body, irreverent capri pants, sexy sleeveless shirts and Spanish good looks have made him the subject of mythical admiration by young women throughout the world. His fantastic displays of grits and guts on the court combined with tremendous sportsmanship have gained the hearts of young and old, male and female in all five continents.
The twenty-one-year old Spaniard is widely regarded as possibly the greatest clay-court player of all time and has been decorated by his legions of fans as the world's sexiest man. The left-handed from Mallorca has never lost a single match at the French Open - one of the most extraordinary records in sport - and holds the longest single surface winning steak in men's tennis open era - a fantastic 81 consecutive wins on clay.
"Richard is a very dangerous player and a tough competitor. I am sure we will have a great match. I feel truly honored to be part of the Celebrations of Malaysia's 50th Anniversary of Nationhood," said Nadal who will be playing in Southeast Asia for the very first time.
The twenty-one year old Spaniard from Mallorca, Spain keeps his business in the family and is coached by his uncle Toni Nadal. The left-handed powerhouse has, in a very short time, amassed twenty three career singles titles, 245 singles matches wins, established himself as the unchallenged world No. 2 player - trailing only the legendary Roger Federer - and has earned over twelve million dollars in prize money.
Nadal's tremendous domination of Roland Garros has caught the tennis world by surprise but it was his success at Wimbledon that left fans and experts alike in awe. Making the transition from the slower red clay courts of Paris to the much faster legendary grass courts of the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club at Wimbledon is one of the most difficult challenges a professional tennis player faces each year. Only the geniuses of the sport have been able to tame both the dirt and the lawn in the short time that separates the French Open and Wimbledon.
In 2006 Nadal achieved the nearly impossible task defeating Federer at the French Open final and then shocking the world by reaching his first ever final at Wimbledon four weeks later where he met the Swiss maestro once again. He repeated the amazing performance earlier this year again prevailing against the world No. 1 Federer at Roland Garros and then pushing the 26-year-old winner of 12-Grand Slam titles to the very limit before Federer closed the thrilling five-set Wimbledon final match.
The Federer - Nadal complete domination of the top two positions in the world rankings over the past three years has set in motion one of the greatest rivalries the sport has ever seen - comparable to the Borg/McEnroe, Borg/Connors and Sampras/Agassi eras. But the humble young man better known as Rafa has his own view on the subject.
"I am not afraid of any player. But obviously Federer is the best one, I believe. I admire him but there is no rivalry. Roger is No. 1 in the world; I am No. 2. I am just trying to do everything I can to get as close to him as possible. But in general, I think you can maintain a rivalry while admiring your rival. When I play Roger, it is a special motivation to play better. On the other hand, it is just another match, no? There is more attention, but it is another match."
Rafa creates great turmoil among female fans in each city he visits due to his good looks and amazingly well-contoured body. His buttocks are the subject of a video on YouTube.
"How do you feel about being a sex symbol to thousands of women around the world," asks a Rafa female fan. "Do you wear a G-string when you play? You are the hottest player on the tennis tour," questions another fan.
The incredibly 'down-to-earth' Nadal who defines himself as 'a bit shy' explains to fans that he does not consider himself a sex symbol and likes to lead a very normal life with following football and Formula One, watching movies - appropriately Gladiator is his all-time favorite - and spending time with family and friends as his favorite activities outside of tennis.
When asked which of the all-time great players he would most prefer to play, he answers: "I would choose Borg. He had an incredible mental approach to the game. He had ice in his veins, and I would love to see what I could do against him. If I had to say, I suppose he would win."
Richard Gasquet will have his hands full in trying to tame Nadal's powerful ground strokes on November 20 at the Malawati Stadium in Shah Alam. But the young Frenchman - fifteen days younger than Nadal - is known by his peers as a fierce competitor gifted with an abundance of natural talented. He is already the winner of four Tour titles, managed to defeat the great Roger Federer in Monte Carlo and is the owner of a classic one-handed backhand which unleashes one of the most beautiful and lethal shots in tennis today. Irrespective of the result of the match, there is no question that the quality of the tennis will be fantastic.
The revolutionary Malaysia Independence Tennis Festival is set up more in the fashion of a music festival than a tennis tournament. It is comprised of the Nadal vs Gasquet Clash of Titans match, the Federer vs Sampras Clash of Times historic encounter to be played on November 22 and the Malaysia Open ATP Challenger Series which commences on November 17.
"It is very good for the development of sport and tennis in Malaysia to bring great players such as Rafael Nadal and Richard Gasquet to play in our Nation. Being able to watch them live right here at home will provide a strong motivation for our youth," said Dato' Seri Azalina Dato' Othman Said, Minister of Youth and Sports.