Everyone is passionate about some sport in their lives. Be it football, basketball, wresting, racing, cricket or something just as exciting. As a child you’re exposed to these sports. You’re taught to play them, to watch them and the more you learn about them, the more they become your life. It turns out to be an undying passion. For me, it’s been tennis. I didn’t get a chance to play the sport but maybe one day I’ll get on court. I’ve watched it since the day I was introduced to the concept of a big sport and since that time it is only sport I’ve followed. Usually sports are about team spirit, here you’re playing for yourself. You may be representing your nation but it’s all up to you to win or lose. And that’s just what I love about the sport. Professional tennis has always excited me with all the energy and animation. In my opinion, it is pretty synonymous to life. Tennis requires aggression, a smart mind game and skill but it also requires patience and modesty. In a sport like this you have to fight back, each shot matters and it’s all up to you alone to win the battle. You could be trained by people, you’re going to have the support of your loved ones but you make your own decisions, you choose whether or not you want to hit back. It’s your choice to let go or leave it to a drop shot or serve an ace. In short, it’s up to you to hit the winners.
When you watch this sport you think there couldn’t be a match greater than this one, you think history has been made. But then, you come back for the next big tournament and boy, you’re in for history being made yet again. It just gets better each time. And then you come to realise, tennis isn’t all about one’s physical strengths but it involves some vicious psychology as well. It is anything but gentle but it also requires a lot of creativity. With every shot comes creativity even though they’re all alike.
I still remember running across the hall worrying my father while he was all into a match, a match I was completely disinterested in at that point. But there was something that made me stop and stare at the television set. There were two men giving it their all to win a simple point. It was a match between Andre Agassi and Rafael Nadal, one who created an era of his own while the latter was still in the making of a great champion. It was Agassi’s last match at the Wimbledon, a huge tournament that every tennis player longs play. I couldn’t help but sit there and watch a match that would be remembered for years to come, little did I know about it back then of course. There were many questions that followed that evening the first being about the difference between a bat and a racket followed by one about the rules. While I was left in awe of the way those two men played on court that day, I couldn’t help but be curious about that sport. I can clearly recall it was that very match that made me the tennis fan that I am today; it made me the Nadal fanatic! A boy at that time, he sprung across the courts like there was no room for giving up. Roger Federer ruled then, in fact he still rules in his own way till date. I went on to watching the Wimbledon ’06 finals, an epic encounter between Federer and Nadal. While my father lauded Federer, I had my hopes on Nadal. When you watch a sport with your family or friends, it is typical for their preference to rub off on you eventually. Strangely that didn’t happen here. I guess that is what made it more interesting because there was more to talk about and more to learn too. I would be lying if I said I got into tennis just because of the nature of the sport. There was another reason to it. RAFAEL NADAL! I just couldn’t help but be spellbound and hugely intrigued by the boy who stood out from the rest. Was it due to his athleticism or his simple smile at the end of winning a point, I don’t know. But I just knew he was what tennis was all about.
Nadal bagged a couple of titles in 2005 including the French Open which moved him right up to the #2 slot. You would have to admit that he had some magic and drive in him to have moved up 49 spots right from being at #51 to later reaching the World’s #1 spot in 2008. He’s got the mind of a genius and a heart of a winner. He is known as the living breathing, snorting, snarling and raging bull of professional tennis for a reason. There were many who were of the opinion that Nadal wouldn’t stay due to his aggressive counterpunching method of playing but he proved them wrong. They told him that a clay courter wouldn’t rule over the grass court or hard court. But that didn’t stop him instead he improved his game and displayed great tennis time and again. And with countless efforts he grew past being just the “King of Clay”, he went on to being a true champion, one that could play on any turf and not just his favourite surface. Andre Agassi was one player I think no end of, despite his injuries he kept coming back and played two decades of some of the best tennis one has ever watched and made himself a legend. Following him was Nadal who completed his Career Grand Slam and is probably the youngest to have done so in the open era. From beating a player like Federer at the age of 17, let alone that being his first French Open to completing a Career Golden Slam at the age of just 24 and being only the second after Agassi to do so made a statement in itself. The Nadal-Federer rivalry has probably been the greatest in tennis history. Having started from 2004, their rivalry will be remembered forever. Their faceoff at the 2008 Wimbledon finals was definitely the best match one could have ever watched between the two masters after which a spectator has never hoped for anything less. When I think about the 2009 Australian Open, Federer’s tears come to mind. It was at the final match when Federer was overwhelmed with emotions. Federer was out to make history that night but Nadal broke his streak to begin one of his own. Nadal had an impressive win and instead of enjoying all the glory he paid a tribute to the marvellous player who stood beside him. At that point all you could see was respect for one another rather than any sort of rivalry or jealousy. What amazes me is the fact that despite such rivalry on court, players like Nadal and Federer have maintained a good friendship. Talk about good sportsmanship, I think here’s an example worth noting.
Nadal has had some glorious wins but he has also faced defeat at times. Having being committed to his dream from the age of seventeen he hasn’t let his victories overwhelm him instead he’s worked harder towards getting better at his own game. For anyone who’s been watching Nadal for a while can tell that he’s worked very hard with his game. It’s not all about the speedy footwork any longer but there is a good mind game in there too. I’ve been told more often than once that he’s a farce and it’s all luck. How about looking beyond his looks and the fame? I think he’s earned the spot he is at right now. It takes a lot to being a Champion, to being the World’s #1 tennis player and he has definitely given it his all to that spot. The recent months haven’t been too good for him, but how can a player win it all? Like Rafa once said in an interview, “I am number one in the tournament, but number one doesn’t always win.” A few losses don’t make him a bad tennis player. There have to be others who will win too. And yes, I don’t wish to but I’ll admit to the fact that eventually there will be another World #1 on the Ranking’s List. But I am also very sure of the fact that Rafael Nadal has made history, he has booked himself a seat in the annals of tennis fame and whether he wins or loses his fans will stand by him. After all what is support if not expressed during the good and bad times?
When I think about tennis, I inevitably think of Rafael Nadal. He definitely is one of the most popular faces pushed in the tennis world. There are many who think this man here just got fortunate but there are many more that know he’s for real. He’s proved it time and again and by now he’s definitely made his point with his ever-improving game. Not only is Rafa an excellent player but he also comes across as a nice person. Despite his aggressive nature on court he’s equally modest off court. His enduring philanthropy tells of his noble nature. Even though as a fan I defend him, one would have never seen him do that. He’s never let down another to shine out. I admire the man for having nothing but respect and admiration for his fellow tennis players, whether they’re his seniors, juniors or even contemporaries. There could be many tennis players in the World and some who have skills better than that of Nadal but no one will match up to him, not even if they’re crowned as the best. That’s what this guy is all about. I once read somewhere that a champion needs arms. And like we all know, Nadal’s got the best arms. In a word, he’s a gladiator.
I could go on about a couple of other tennis players, who maybe excellent on court but truly lack good sportsmanship. It’s one thing to have an aggressive playing method and another to behave aggressively, not only do you humiliate your opponent but the onlookers consider you to be nothing but a disgrace to the sport. So even though they’re at a pinnacle and win championships, you just can’t get yourself to like them because of such abhorrent behaviour. It takes a good athlete to sport the same smile whether he wins or loses. Frustration and over-confidence could both be responsible for ones downfall. And in the past and probably in the present too, we’ve seen some of the best players heading down that path. Being the #1 tennis player is not what it’s all about. It’s about the spirit you play in and the history you create that will really be remembered in the years to come.
It’s been a dream to watch Rafa play live since the 2006 Wimbledon final that I watched. It’s been a dream to walk up to him and have a word with him. It’s like a dream to watch him play in the first place. And if this has come about, I’m sure the others will come true too. Even though someday never comes, in this case I truly hope for a “someday”, I believe in one. There are millions of fans across the globe and I will barely make a difference to this great guy. Everyone has their favourite athletes, here’s mine. When Nadal loses, I cry myself to sleep and when he wins I can’t help but smile the night away. Yes, I cheer for him from the couch even though the fact is that he can’t hear me and when he drops a point I can’t help but feel sad. I sit through the tournaments with my fingers crossed hoping that he wins and that it’s a win after a good fight. And for those who choose to mock him, I can’t help but want to flaunt Rafa’s bio, because that says it all. There are many tennis players that I adore, they play some impressive tennis and at times out beat Nadal’s game. But just like you don’t change your soul mate, you don’t change your favourite athlete. It’s you and them against the World along the peaks and valleys.
There are people who claim to know about a sport or sportsperson just because they’re out to impress people and there are some who do it because they happen to like the looks of a player. I can’t disagree on the fact that tennis may have some of the most good looking tennis players, men and women, but don’t insult the sport by digging it just for that. You don’t talk about a player because your friend rants about him/her neither do you let down another without really knowing what they’re all about. You can’t just pretend to have the knowledge about the sport or a player, you’ve got to really know about it to actually make your argument work. Learning about them in cyber space is a pity. Stay up all night like a true fan does and then make your point. Don’t watch or talk about it because it gets you the attention but do so because it brings out your passion and love for the sport.
I may not fancy a huge sport like football but tennis isn’t any less. It gives me the same adrenaline rush like a team centric sport would. It’s a sport that defines who I am. It’s a one on one sport and there isn’t any hiding. Like I illustrated before, tennis is like life, you have to run, move, think, fight back and be able to control the pressure. It’s quite a metaphor. Needless to say, a metaphor for real – it’s the Rafalution!