Nadal is the next best thing [Archive] - MensTennisForums.com

Nadal is the next best thing

Daniel
05-16-2005, 01:23 AM
Nadal is the next big thing

Jon Henderson
Sunday May 15, 2005
The Observer

Americans have a way of putting people in their place. The latest issue of the United States' most popular tennis magazine has an arresting picture of Rafael Nadal on its cover and proclaims, in large type, that the Spaniard is The Next Great Dirtballer. If you detect just the hint of a pejorative tone, it is almost certainly intended.
You might think that after the 18-year-old's blazing start to the year - five titles in four-and-a-bit months with the talented Albert Montanes saying after losing to him in the Acapulco final: 'Nadal played at an unbelievable level. He gave me a tennis lesson like no one had done for a very long time' - he might just be touted as The Next Great Tennis Player.

The point is, though, that Nadal's six titles - he broke through with a win in Poland last year - have all been on clay. It is a surface that Americans regard with suspicion, too Old Europe for their liking, terracotta-coloured and with a somnolent bounce. Dirtballers play on clay, modern tennis players such as Andre Agassi and Andy Roddick are more at home on the brashly finished hard courts that are the surface for the US Open series later in the year.

As all the world's leading players gather in Paris for the French Open, which starts in eight days' time, there is little talk of an American carrying off the world's premier claycourt title. Agassi won it in 1999 but he was one of only four Americans to do so in the second half of the twentieth century. There seems no immediate prospect of one doing so in this century.

All the talk is of whether Nadal, having grown into a man's body with unseemly haste - his sleeveless tops expose scarily pumped-up biceps - can emulate the Brazilian Gustavo Kuerten, who in 1997 won the French Open on his first visit to Roland Garros. The evidence certainly suggests he can, particularly after two notable victories recently over the clay-court game's numero uno , Guillermo Coria, who was beaten by Nadal in the Monte Carlo and Rome finals.

Like the vast majority of his generation, the left- hander with the clubbing, two-fisted backhand plays almost exclusively from the back of the court. What sets him apart is his phenomenal speed that enables him to chase down balls that most would regard as hopelessly lost causes and the strength when having improbably arrived on time to lever the ball back with destructive force.

Then there's the commitment, which particularly pleases some of the older players. Thomas Muster, who won at Roland Garros 10 years ago and was the fiercest of competitors, has practised with Nadal in recent weeks while preparing for his own matches on the Delta Tour of Champions. 'The main thing is that he is not waiting for it to come to him,' says Muster. 'He's coming out with the attitude that he's going to go for it and that's already a very big step.'

The aggression has nothing to do with his being a hungry fighter. Nadal's family is prosperous, with three generations of them living in a five-storey apartment building in Majorca, where they have considerable property interests. His father also runs a window company.

John McEnroe reckons: 'He's going to be one of the greatest players. He's going to end the year as one of the top guys already. It just remains to be seen how quickly he will learn to play on grass and the faster surfaces.'

Which brings us back to the proposition that Nadal may be no more than just an exceptional dirtballer. Consider this, though: two years ago Nadal became the youngest player since Boris Becker in 1984 to reach the third round of Wimbledon and just over a month ago was a dodgy line call away from beating world number one Roger Federer in the Masters hard-court final in Miami.

Don't expect the young Spaniard to disappear after Roland Garros in a puff of clay-court dust.

Agent X
05-16-2005, 01:27 AM
Good article :) agree with every point made.

Blaze
05-16-2005, 01:34 AM
I think it is an ok article but not too keen on the "dodgy line call away from beating world number one Roger Federer in the Masters hard-court final in Miami. " part of the article.

bad gambler
05-16-2005, 02:07 AM
I think it is an ok article but not too keen on the \"dodgy line call away from beating world number one Roger Federer in the Masters hard-court final in Miami. \" part of the article.
i agree

NYCtennisfan
05-16-2005, 02:33 AM
i agree

ditto

liptea
05-16-2005, 02:45 AM
I don't think the prosperity of the Nadal family has anything really to do with Nadal's fighting style. :confused:

mandoura
05-16-2005, 03:41 AM
I think it is an ok article but not too keen on the "dodgy line call away from beating world number one Roger Federer in the Masters hard-court final in Miami. " part of the article.

Agree.

Chloe le Bopper
05-16-2005, 05:32 AM
I don't think the prosperity of the Nadal family has anything really to do with Nadal's fighting style. :confused:
Wasn't that the author's point? :confused:

ATPTOUR
05-16-2005, 05:39 AM
I don't think the prosperity of the Nadal family has anything really to do with Nadal's fighting style. :confused:

What's to be confused about that is what the author said that the prosperity of the family wasn't a reason for why he has so much desire.

tennischick
05-16-2005, 05:40 AM
i agree with the criticism of the dodgy line call. but the comments about the American media's dismissal of Nadal are spot-on. it's a shame bec his is a huge story.

Action Jackson
05-16-2005, 10:28 AM
Americans have a way of putting people in their place. The latest issue of the United States' most popular tennis magazine has an arresting picture of Rafael Nadal on its cover and proclaims, in large type, that the Spaniard is The Next Great Dirtballer. If you detect just the hint of a pejorative tone, it is almost certainly intended.

It couldn't be anything else but pejorative.

The point is, though, that Nadal's six titles - he broke through with a win in Poland last year - have all been on clay. It is a surface that Americans regard with suspicion, too Old Europe for their liking, terracotta-coloured and with a somnolent bounce. Dirtballers play on clay, modern tennis players such as Andre Agassi and Andy Roddick are more at home on the brashly finished hard courts that are the surface for the US Open series later in the year.

Spot on there.

JMac is on the bandwagon as usual, but Nadal is good and the potential was always there, it's just that it seems for some people he just started playing tennis yesterday and here are the gaga headlines.

It was a reasonable article nevertheless.

tangerine_dream
05-17-2005, 09:38 PM
i agree with the criticism of the dodgy line call. but the comments about the American media's dismissal of Nadal are spot-on. it's a shame bec his is a huge story.
Spot-on my ass. The US media has hardly dismissed him. Every other tennis story in the media lately has been about Nadal. He also just got a nice writeup in this week's ESPN magazine. And here's yet another article, from today's USA Today. I haven't seen anyone this hyped in the US since, well, Andy. LOL.

http://images.usatoday.com/sports/tennis/_photos/2005-05-16-nadal.jpg
Nadalmania set to invade France
By Douglas Robson, special for USA TODAY

No man has captured the French Open in his debut since Swede Mats Wilander came out of nowhere to win in 1982.

Rafael Nadal can count on no such anonymity.

With his flowing hair and boyish good looks, strapping frame and warrior's heart, Nadal enters next week's French Open riding a wave of anticipation not seen since Boris Becker captured Wimbledon at 17.

Nadalmania has taken the tennis world by storm.

Since losing an epic five-set final to No. 1 Roger Federer at Florida's NASDAQ-100 in March, the 18-year-old Spanish sensation has won three consecutive clay court titles, including Masters Series events in Monte Carlo and Rome. The left-hander has risen into the top five, built a 17-match winning streak and has an ATP Tour-best 31-2 record on clay.

Despite never having struck a ball on the red dirt of Roland Garros, home of the season's second major, the kid known as "Rafa" arrives as the player to beat.

"He's got to be one of the favorites, if not the favorite," U.S. Davis Cup captain Patrick McEnroe says.

Wilander, who was an unseeded 17-year-old when he won in Paris 23 years ago, says lack of experience isn't necessarily a disadvantage. "He will be hungrier than anyone," the three-time French Open champion says.

"I know it's my first, but I don't think about it right now," says Nadal, who came back from an 0-3 deficit in the fifth set against 2004 French Open runner-up Guillermo Coria nine days ago to become the youngest winner in Rome since Jimmy Arias in 1983.

"When I have to play Roland Garros, I'll start thinking about it."

How impressive has Nadal's spring been?

•Since losing in Valencia to Igor Andreev of Russia in early April, he has won 17 consecutive matches in 27 days, the second-longest winning streak on the ATP Tour this year and the longest heading into Roland Garros since Thomas Muster's 23-match streak in 1995.

•His ranking has jumped from No. 31 to No. 5 in just five weeks.

•He is the youngest player, at 18 years, 11 months, to break into the top five since Michael Chang (17 years, 5 months) in 1989.

•He is the first teenager to win five ATP titles in a season since Andre Agassi won six in 1988. Nadal is one behind top-ranked Federer for the most titles won this year.

The hyper Nadal, who can barely sit still in the locker room before his matches, insists the sudden success hasn't changed him an iota.

"No, no, nothing has really changed in my life," he says. "Not even my cell (phone) number."

Another Mallorcan star is born

Born on the Mediterranean island of Mallorca, east of the Spanish mainland, Nadal began playing tennis at 5 with his uncle, Toni, who remains his coach today.

An only child with athletic prowess in the family — his uncle Miguel Angel Nadal was a member of Spain's national soccer team and had stints with top clubs FC Barcelona and Real Mallorca — Nadal quickly rose up the junior rankings in Spain.

Fellow Mallorcan and 1998 French Open champ Carlos Moya first hit with Nadal when he was 12, and has said since that Nadal was destined for stardom. The two became close, and Moya has served as a behind-the-scenes mentor as Nadal has improved since turning pro in 2002.

"To start your career and have a friend like that who can give you advice and tips and also a chance to socialize, it's obviously important," says Nadal, who is still learning English and spoke through an interpreter.

True to Moya's prediction, Nadal began making headlines early in his teens. He was so good he barely played any major international junior events. He competed only in the Wimbledon boys' tournament, where he reached the semifinals in 2002.

He won his first ATP match that same year, at 15, becoming one of only nine players to do so in the Open era (since 1968). Then, in 2003, he upended Moya at the Hamburg Masters and finished the season in the top 50 at No. 47.

After reaching as high as No. 34 in March 2004, Nadal suffered a stress fracture in his left ankle joint. That forced him to miss nearly three months, including the French Open and most of last year's clay-court season.

Disappointed, Nadal stayed at home and watched the major clay tournaments on TV.

"They were difficult moments, but I've had them and they are behind me now," he says. "Obviously it was not nice because I was playing very good on clay."

All the tools, all the emotion

Unlike such teenage prodigies as Wilander, Bjorn Borg, Arias and Chang, Nadal is stamped more in the Becker mold. At 6-1, 188, Nadal is as big as a bull and just as strong, with a swagger in his step and boldness in his personality that matches his physical presence.

"I mean, me at 18 (and) looking at Nadal at 18, from the neck down you would think one person was 26 and another person was 12," Agassi said jokingly at March's NASDAQ-100.

Although his serve is not a significant weapon yet, Nadal hits some of the heaviest groundstrokes in the game and comes up with angles most players can only imagine but not execute.

He can take control of points with his whippy topspin forehand, but he's also an excellent mover who can scramble his way from defense to offense.

"His forehand is huge," Federer says, "and because he's a lefty, it changes so many things."

What sets him apart even more is his never-say-die attitude and big-match mentality.

A surprise choice by Spanish captain Jordi Arrese in December's Davis Cup final in Seville, Nadal came out and beat then-No. 2 Andy Roddick in four sets in the opening match, propelling Spain to the championship.

This month, after capturing back-to-back titles in Monte Carlo and Barcelona, Nadal dug himself out of one-set deficits in consecutive matches to reach the Rome final.

Sipping cola and munching on bananas, an exhausted Nadal then overcame a fifth-set deficit and blisters to his playing hand to knock off Argentina's Coria 6-4, 3-6, 6-3, 4-6, 7-6 (8-6) in a match that lasted more than five hours.

"You have to start with his competitive instincts. He just loves the battle, and it doesn't matter whether he wins or loses the first set. He comes right back in the second ready to go," two-time French Open champ Jim Courier says.

Nadal says, "I've always been a guy who is mentally stable and centered."

Charisma and fame's glare

Nadal will need to maintain his stability. His success, coupled with his natural flair and charisma, has thrust him into the international limelight.

Following his win in Monte Carlo, Nadal arrived in Barcelona as the new king of Spanish tennis. His every movement was daily news in local papers. He was inundated with autograph requests. For the first time, he needed protection walking around tournament grounds from fans and onlookers, ATP officials said.

In his spare time at tournaments, he plays soccer and PlayStation 2, listens to Spanish music and current pop and dance music and has a voracious appetite — he munches lots of cookies and loves to go out to eat, particularly if it's for seafood.

Despite the media glare, Nadal, who is single and has no girlfriend, says he is surprised by his success and the attention but remains unfazed.

"I don't know much about how the public perception is or if some other people have changed. What I can tell you is that I have not changed," he says. "I'm exactly the same kind of guy and I have the same kind of life. I don't have more or less pressure. I try to be the same, act in the same way. ... I have to work every day 100% and try to forget the rest."

He admits, however, that his confidence has never been higher.

"Maybe what has changed is that I know how to be more calm on court," he says. "I know how to control better the important moments in a match."

Tantalizing rivalry

As his run on the hard courts at the NASDAQ-100 attests, Nadal can't be pigeonholed as simply a clay-court grinder. He made the third round on grass at Wimbledon in his debut two years ago and reached the third round of the Australian Open this year on hard courts.

He was one of six players to beat Federer in 2004, and he did so on a hard court.

"He's going to be one of the great players," seven-time major champ John McEnroe says. "It just remains to be seen how quickly he'll learn to play on grass and the faster surfaces."

If he continues at the same pace as this year, Nadal could be the perfect foil to Federer and provide the kind of contrast the game has lacked since John McEnroe and Borg clashed at the top of the sport a quarter century ago.

•The right-handed Federer employs a one-handed backhand and plays a classic style reminiscent of earlier eras, while southpaw Nadal typifies the modern backcourt game with heavy topspin and a two-fisted backhand.

•Whereas Federer is cool and collected, the swashbuckling Nadal is prone to frequent fist pumps, cries of "vamos" ("let's go) and other emotive displays.

•The clean-cut, gentlemanly Federer comes off as a former alter boy. Nadal, with his shoulder-length hair, white headband and trademark white clam digger shorts, looks like an island warrior swept in off the high seas.

"We'll see, of course, very much from him in the future," Federer said after his comeback 2-6, 6-7 (7-4), 7-6 (7-5), 6-3, 6-1 victory in the NASDAQ-100 final. "For me this was a big match because I know what a great player he will be one day."

Reign of Spain in Paris

One day has come quicker than Federer imagined.

Indeed, whether Nadal can pull off a win at Roland Garros seems only a matter of time. Whether he can do it on his first try is another question. The stakes will be higher, the target on his back bigger and the pressure to live up to the public's growing expectations even greater.

"He's playing great this year, and we'll have to see how much energy he has left for the French," says fellow left-hander Muster, an Austrian who won the French Open in 1995. "He's very young, and there are a lot of things for him to cope with mentally. He's a young kid with lots of expectations."

Some have wondered if Nadal, with all his long matches and titles since March, might have played too much heading into the grueling two-week clay-court major, where matches are best-of-five sets and points are longer on the sticky, red clay.

Nadal discounts that idea. "I know I've played a lot, but I'm feeling well and I'm very excited."

Then again, recent history is on the youngster's side: Spanish men have won five of the last 12 French Opens, more than any country.

Wilander, for one, wouldn't be surprised to see Nadal win if he gets out of the early rounds.

"You can burn yourself out," Wilander says, "but when you come in with that much confidence you can feel untouchable."

Devotee
05-17-2005, 10:00 PM
Spot-on my ass. The US media has hardly dismissed him. Every other tennis story in the media lately has been about Nadal. He also just got a nice writeup in this week's ESPN magazine. And here's yet another article, from today's USA Today. I haven't seen anyone this hyped in the US since, well, Andy. LOL.

Tangy, could you please post the ESPN magazine article here? :) Thanks!