The Return Of Rafa
World No. 1 Rafael Nadal looks to cap off a season to remember with the elusive Barclays ATP World Tour Finals title. Opponents beware. Rafael Nadal returns to The O2 restored to the World No. 1 spot and playing the tennis of his life.
Forget about 2009. Banish any thoughts of the Rafael Nadal you saw last year at the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals. This year, the imperious Mallorcan will arrive at The O2 looking to take care of some unfinished business. And he will do so as a player so dominant this season that he has been crowned on the clay of Roland Garros, the grass of Wimbledon and the hard courts of the US Open.
That’s a tribute to his chameleonic capabilities, to his will to adapt his game to different surfaces. That’s also a warning to the other players in the field. London’s calling and Nadal is here. This time, for real.
“This tournament,” the World No. 1 said before departing in 2009, “gives me the opportunity to see what I have to do to play better and to start the next year better. I see the way, what I have to do if I want to be more competitive on this kind of surface. I have to play more aggressive. After the serve, when I touch the first forehand, I have to attack more than what I did in these last months... I have to recover my forehand winner and my intensity and my rhythm on the forehand. For the rest, when I’m playing well with the forehand, the backhand is going to improve a lot.”
And with that, Nadal returned to his hometown of Manacor in Mallorca. Under the guidance of Toni, his uncle and coach; the counselling of Joan Forcades, his physical trainer; and the cares of Rafael Maymo, his physiotherapist, Nadal set about rediscovering himself and his game.
Things didn’t get off to a great start, at the Australian Open 2010, when he retired in the quarter-finals against Andy Murray and extended an 11-month streak with no titles. One could have been forgiven for wondering whether Nadal might recapture his best form again. Nadal didn’t. He got ready for the clay...and none could see what was coming. Not the tears. Not the titles. Not the superb success he earned blowing rivals off the court with his forehand, running down every ball and, in the end, surprisingly, changing the grip of his racquet to improve his only major weakness: service.
This was it: for the first time in the history of the game, a player won every major title available on clay (Monte-Carlo, Rome, Madrid and Roland Garros). Nadal then went to his cherished Wimbledon, the tournament he dreamt about as a little kid, and conquered it for a second time.
It didn’t end there, though. The day after winning at the All England Club, with the tuxedo he’d worn to the Champions Ball yet to be folded, he was already visiting his doctor to treat the painful tendonitis in his knees.
But there was no stopping Nadal by then. Not only did he continue playing – he won the US Open, becoming the seventh man in the history of the game to claim all four major titles and making himself the first to win Roland Garros, Wimbledon and the US Open consecutively and on three different surfaces. It was an astonishing sequence.
This was the Nadal we were used to. But what’s behind the armour? What about the person that propels the champion?
Nadal, the player who has won nine Grand Slam titles and an Olympic Gold, is afraid of darkness and tends to leave at least one light on when he is alone at home. Nadal, the cook that specialises in pasta; has opened a school for underprivileged children in India, where he flew this autumn; and has seen Miguel Angel, one of his uncles and a former Spanish international footballer, become a part of Mallorca’s training staff. Nadal, who always rents a house within walking distance of Wimbledon, loves Japanese food, playing with his PlayStation and listening to Spanish music. Family is what matters most to the World No. 1. Running in a close second is tennis.
Get ready. London’s calling, and this time the real Nadal is coming.
The View From Spain
- Juan José Mateo Ruiz-Gálvez, Sports feature writer, El Pais
Spain’s sport is living a Golden Era. Think about it: the national team won the World Cup this summer. Pau Gasol claimed his second NBA Champion ring with the LA Lakers. Fernando Alonso drives a Ferrari in the Formula 1 championship. And yet, Rafael Nadal, the World No. 1 tennis player, transcends all that.
Is he the best sportsman Spain has ever produced? That’s the discussion in the streets and the media. Is he an influential figure? Yes. Is he a role model for many? Yes. Is he a popular star, one that lives with the burden of being hunted by the paparazzi? Yes.
There is one thing that summarises everything. In 2008, Nadal was distinguished with the prestigious Principe de Asturias award. The reason? “His behaviour both in victory and defeat.” In other words: he was recognised as a valid role model for society, and an approachable one. Rafael Nadal is simply Rafa.
Story reproduced with permission from the official Barclays ATP World Tour Finals tournament program.
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