Belief, one of the many attributes of a ‘champion’, was more apparent than anything else at Arthur Ashe Stadium when Rafael Nadal announced his grandslam comeback with a sweet and emotional victory over his long-time nemesis, Novak Djokovic. Nadal was not short of doubters as he arrived into the American hard court summer. His Wimbledon performance against Steve Darcis might have scared more than many fans, bringing back the worst memories of Nadal’s 2012 post the Rosoler. Nadal’s career has had its share of scars, often received at the hands of unfamiliar rackets. However, more than the defeat, the dreadful mirage of yet another injury plagued season started to haunt. Wimbledon setback has served enough fodder to the hungry horses in tennis writers. Well, Nadal continues to feed the writers and the media, but this time around, he chose a different path to do so!
It was 2:30 in the morning here in India as I was sneaking out of my bed into the TV room, feeling uncommonly fresh and eagerly awaiting the clash of the modern tennis titans. As Djokovic and Nadal walked onto the court on the evening of the final, something in Nadal told me that he might avenge his humiliating defeat in 2011. Probably, his all-grey outfit and short hair reminded me of the merciless ‘assassin’ he played in the US Open 2010 final..! It was 37th time that Rafael Nadal faced Novak Djokovic. The attendance of Justin Timberlake, Jessica Biel, Leonardo DiCaprio, Sean Connery decorated the house, whose center stage was occupied by Rafole. But, it was a pleasure watching those wonderful artists witness the most celebrated contest in tennis world. The match started on even terms with each player holding their serves at 1-1. Serving for the game, Djokovic was reluctant to return a ball directed to his backhand, after having committed to his forehand wing. Djokovic was proven wrong in his anticipation. Familiarity doesn’t always guarantee comfort, for an occasional surprise might be too hard to digest. Djokovic’s focus wavered when Nadal had started being unpredictable; in retrospect, I was starting to feel vindicated of my prediction when Djokovic was ‘broken’ for that game and eventually, the set. I wondered if a culmination similar to the 2010 US Open final was on the cards. Their previous meetings in 2010 and 2011 were decided by the winner of the first set and it was hard to not foresee Nadal’s seizure.
Djokovic was, perhaps, expecting to counter Nadal’s predictable aggression, but it took him a set to realize that he was playing NADAL, full of resolve and belief. In his post SF match presser at French Open, Djokovic seemed amazed that Nadal went for few uncharacteristic shots, which often ended up as winners. This reminded me of 2011 US Open presentation ceremony, when Nadal had one thing to say to Djokovic – “What you did this year is probably impossible to repeat…so well done!” Nadal is never known to be appreciative of himself and his skills; he runs with a fear of losing and thrives on adversity! Within his appreciation of Djokovic’s tennis, one could also sense a cup filled with bitter tea called ‘disbelief’. Absolute awe of Djokovic, with a rattled mind hoping for a dip in Djokovic’s game, didn’t seem to help Nadal. Negativity seemed to be looming him and his results in final part of 2011 are reflective of this.
Though, Nadal soon struck the balance that a champion needs. Being naturally insecure, it was time for the arrogance to show up for Nadal! He conveyed his fearlessness to Djokovic at Melbourne, 2012. By his own admission, that epic 5 set thriller has re-instilled confidence in Nadal to challenge Djokovic, and he walked off with a new game-plan. Confidence was justified when he took Djokovic down at Monte Carlo the same year. Nadal has started to identify flaws in his game and adapted to the rising demands set by Djokovic. Fundamentally, it took courage for Nadal to accept defeat and admit that his game wasn’t on par with Djokovic. Self confession and honesty gifted Nadal with a refreshing breeze, as he stood up to solve the riddle and pushed himself to newer heights. His newly manufactured weapons’ artillery – deep and purposeful backhands down-the-line, sharp angles to weaken Djokovic’s forehand, sharp and low rhythm-disturbing slices, tactical surprises, surges towards the net, and most importantly restored BELIEF. I now find Djokovic in a place similar to Nadal’s, post his crushing defeat in 2011 USO. While Nadal started to attain balance with acceptance, it remains to be seen if Djokovic opts to admit to the fact Nadal’s residence has moved to a new hill!
Set 3, 4-4…Nadal has just broken Djokovic back to level the terms in third set. Many people couldn’t help but wonder if Djokovic’s ground strokes have started to lose that zip and penetration to deflate Nadal’s defense. Aggressive court positioning and sharp anticipation, two invaluable ingredients for a hard court game, have helped Nadal deny the edge Djokovic was seeking. Nadal v2011 would have fumbled at 4-4 0-40 in the third set. But, the resilience and sense of pressure has brought out the ruthless warrior in him. Djokovic has already received a tactical surprise in set 1 and did well to overcome it by breaking Nadal twice in a row to claim set 2. However, this psychological surprise was probably not foreseen in Djokovic’s mind. And, he could not find an answer to this sky rocketing belief in Nadal. As Djokovic voiced his thoughts later, he did no wrong to lose that set. Nadal just geared his game up to another level and Djokovic could not find an answer. He faltered by conceding the decisive game to a commanding Nadal. That was the championship!
Unlike Djokovic, familiarity assisted Nadal, as he could just digest and absorb those few surprises Djokovic threw at him. It would be one of the most memorable and emotional seasons for Nadal, if he can cap his year off with a good Asian swing and a Master’s Cup, which would be the first in his populated trophy cabinet. It has been an absolute treat to watch some of his most aggressive brand of tennis and here is to hoping that he continues to enthrall one and all. As a fan of tennis, and an admirer of Nadal, I’d love if Nadal relinquishes one of his many habits – falling down to rise again!
19 thoughts on “13 is lucky for RAFA!”
13 is indeed lucky for Rafa. Congratulations to Rafa and his many fans – in no particular order, RG, Kimberly and Carlos.
This post should have been made 1 day earlier or 13th the friday! That would have gone well with the 13 is the lucky theme 🙂
Nice observation RL…too late for a suggestion though
Roger That 😉
AB Vajpayee jee ka lucky number bhi 13 tha….
Actually, 13 has been my lucky day too…guess Nadal’s 13 is more powerful!!!
It was my lucky number too from Sep 2008 to Jun 2009 when Roger was on 13 slams or July 2000 to Sep 2002, when Pete was on 13 slams 😉
Novak looks like he is back to make a serious run at the indoors. Rafa is now playing even doubles. I am not sure that is the smartest thing to do, given what happened last year.
Live and not Learn, seems to be the motto of Team Nadal. So far so good….
Rafa is in 2 races now – no.1 race with Novak and GOAT race with Sampras (yes! Sampras – he has to overcome Sampras before he can think of Laver and Roger!)
Raonic – Loved what he did this weekend. Come on Milos, set the tour on fire this indoor season. Dimitrov and Jerzy, get your act together guys. Tennis Cosmos is waiting for you guys to deliver with baited breath!
Murray – how awesome was he in the doubles match yesterday? 🙂 He’s the active player who comes 2nd closest to be called a Genius, other than Mr. Tennis – RF!. Can you guess the 1st? 🙂
I agree with you that Rafa is not doing the smartest thing by opting to play doubles. He’s signalled his hunger [or desperation ?] to play when he had announced his participation in Basel. Well, nothing can be more surprising than Nadal adding a new indoor HC tourney to his calendar for 1st time in 9 years. After what happened last year, he should be dreading an end to be coming at any time in his career and his actions are understandable to an extent. Sitting out 7 months has its side effects, doesn’t it?
Milos should be disappointed after what had happened in his match against Nole; But hey, he was playing the 2nd best clay-courter of this era…and Vasek?? he was fighting in his match against Janko; even he wouldn’t have imagined himself inside top 50 at the start of the year…GO CANADA, it was no accident that you made it to SF…world awaits your ascendancy in ATP
Novak and Davis Cup was great this week!!! rooting for Serbia to win the finals…probably the Davis Cup finals preview would not be a bad idea…
Thanks for the heads up D! Davis Cup final will definitely be an event we would be previewing! Last 5 years, Czechs have made 3 finals and Serbia 2. They are also no.1 and no.2 in rankings.
I am sure he will cross the records of pete sampras(My all time favorite) and roger federer
After all the pain he has gone through, 2nd USO title is a well earned diamond for Rafa Nadal. Let’s hope he breaks the records, however it can get only tougher for Nadal hereon. We don’t need a distant example, for we’ve Roger himself. Every tennis fan knows how tough it is, even for the best, to collect slams in their careers’ later stages. And, Djokovic…well he doesn’t like being pushed aside. All I wish is for a 2014 full of scintillating and compelling tennis!
+1 on your last line RG!
“He’s signalled his hunger [or desperation ?] to play when he had announced his participation in Basel. ”
I am looking forward to Fedal in Basel. Indoors, Roger’s 4-0 domination of Rafa is as impressive as Rafa’s dominating of Roger on clay. I still remember the 2007 match in Shanghai where Fed closed the match under an hour. You can find the link here…. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LTvGt07DXfQ
that is a cool one…loved Rafa being crushed in an hour by who else but the GOD of TENNIS himself!!!
D: RF is definitely a Tennis God!
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