The Hallucinatory Rafael Nadal

It is Nadal’s 36th birthday; it is June 3, a Friday where he is once again playing a semifinal at the Roland Garros. His opponent is the 3rd seed Sascha Zverev who is playing some sublime tennis. Zverev is forcing Nadal to play his relatively weaker back hand against his strong and deep forehand shots. Nadal is down 2-6 in the first set tie-breaker and as always there is a quiet expectation in the air. People at the Philippe Chatrier stadium are at the edge of their seat anticipating a typical Nadal fight back. I am in my living room with my younger son watching with similar emotions. Once again, Nadal doesn’t let us down. He plays some incredible shots, running from one end of the court to the other, retrieving balls which only he can. Zverev is stunned and loses the tie breaker. Watch this clip in case you missed watching the tie-breaker. Just watching this 3.29 minutes video will release the required dose of dopamine and serotonin for you to face any challenge. This is Nadal, perhaps the most resilient athlete on planet earth. Now we shift to the same Nadal an hour later holding a just retired Zverev by his arm, sadness and empathy writ large on his face. A compassionate peer and senior. Does sport need a better ambassador?

At his age with a chronic foot injury which has forced his medical team to take the pain out of the equation by numbing it with daily injections, Nadal has emphatically put to rest the debate surrounding who is the GOAT. In one of my earlier blogs written almost three years ago, I had attempted to statistically determine who was tops among the three – Djokovic, Federer and Nadal. Nadal had statistically emerged the leader of the pack then.

Djokovic has created a hole for himself with his decision not to vaccinate. Federer is sadly at a stage where his mind is willing but his body has shut shop long ago. While Nadal has a mind that can dictate even a dead body to do a somersault. Undoubtedly, it is Nadal and his unbelievable mental strength that has got him to edge past both Djokovic and Federer since the beginning of this year, adding the Australian and the French Open to his tally. And we won’t be surprised if he is able to further increase his collection of slams. This week, he will be taking a crucial decision based on a medical procedure which could potentially help him with his foot injury. Hopefully, the medical intervention coupled with his own determination will allow all his fans to breathe easy and watch him at Wimbledon in early July.

Nadal’s last few years are perhaps the best template for any athlete to follow. His focus and obsession with preparation, fitness, elimination of distractions and ability to work with injury is something all budding athletes can try and emulate. He has time and again exhibited the much sought after ability to focus on the task at hand without much fuss. He is fortunate to have been surrounded by a dedicated and loving family and support team. Yes, one needs to be fortunate for this to fall in place, but it is also something that can be cultivated and nurtured as much as one’s skill and fitness. One can focus more on these simpler aspects of life than on how we are perceived by others and the social distractions. He has also had a monogamous relationship with his key sponsors (Nike for 23 years, Kia and Richard Mille for 12 years) where even the chaste Federer could be accused of being promiscuous. Most athletes crave for such stability and this helps the athlete to focus better and be in an ideal frame of mind.

CNN’s Christiane Amanpour interviewed Nadal the day after his triumph and she started the chat by terming Nadal and his tennis as “hallucinatory”. He with his typical humility just brushed off the compliment and went on to explain the reason for him to continue winning down to his pure love and passion for the game. Statements such as, “I don’t think too much”; “I don’t care” or “It doesn’t matter” echoed through their chat, once again signifying the fact that he has always kept stability and simplicity at the core of his existence. In the same breath, he very candidly admitted the joy he took in going ahead of both Djokovic and Federer. Amanpour was keen to know what made him happy and one wasn’t surprised to hear him mention everyone’s good health, growing up with good values surrounded by the same bunch of friends.

So let’s add another acronym to our daily mantra in PRSSH – Passion-Resilience-Stability-Simplicity-Humility. And thank Nadal for being there for all of us.

Nadal after winning his first French Open


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