Obsessive Nadal at the dawn of history

Published on:

Melbourne (AFP) – Finicky to the point of distraction, Rafael Nadal cuts an instantly recognizable figure on the pitch with idiosyncrasies that are considered charming by his fans but often irritating by opponents.

The tall Spaniard, who can win a record 21st Grand Slam title in the Australian Open final on Sunday, is constantly scratching the back of his shorts, wiping sweat from his brow and pushing hair behind his ears before each service.

During shifts, he superstitiously refuses to walk the lines and devoutly lines up his drink bottles, labels still facing out, before getting back into action.

Calm and modest off the court, his manner demonstrates that he leaves nothing to chance in his relentless pursuit of tennis glory.

Quarter-final opponent Denis Shapovalov was unsettled by Nadal’s turmoil and wanted him fined for a code violation for pushing the 25-second service clock to the limit.

The young Canadian has complained that the Spaniard great has been given preferential treatment due to his status in the game.

Nadal, a man who always applauds his defeated opponents off the field, quietly disagreed.

“I really believe that it’s always in the mind that better players get bigger advantages and, honestly, on the court, that’s not true,” Nadal said.

“Life is never clear”

Equally happy fishing or golfing back home in Mallorca, Nadal is ruthless on the tennis court.

“He’s never seen a point he isn’t dying to win, a ball he doesn’t want to chase,” said his uncle and longtime mentor Toni Nadal.

The Spanish gladiator is also humble away from the cauldron of world tennis coliseums.

“I have doubts every day but it’s good because it makes me work hard with more intensity,” said Nadal, whose career has been constantly beleaguered by knee, wrist and foot injuries.

“Life is never clear. If you have no doubts, then you are very arrogant. I am not an arrogant person.”

Sunday’s win will clear Nadal of Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic as the first man to win 21 Grand Slams.

“I just like playing tennis,” Nadal said this week.

“I don’t believe that my future happiness will depend on me achieving one more Grand Slam than the others.”

His Grand Slam resume includes 13 French Opens, four US Open titles, two Wimbledon titles and one Australian Open.

His 2008 Wimbledon triumph over Federer is widely regarded as the greatest Grand Slam final of all time.

He has 89 career titles including 36 Masters titles, one behind Djokovic’s all-time record.

First success

Tennis has been in Nadal’s DNA from an early age when he regularly beat older players.

He won a regional Under-12 crown at the age of eight. By the age of 12, he had won the Spanish Junior and European Age Group titles.

At 15 he had turned professional and two years later won his first match against Federer.

The first: Spaniard Rafael Nadal bites his trophy after winning the 2005 French Open Thomas CoexAFP

At 19, he won the 2005 French Open on his debut, claiming 12 more victories in the next 16 editions.

Nadal won Wimbledon in 2008 and 2010, an Australian Open title in 2009 and ended his Grand Slam career in 2010 by beating Djokovic in the US Open final, becoming the youngest of the era Open to complete his career sweep in four events.

Only Nadal and Andre Agassi can say they have a Grand Slam career and an Olympic gold medal in men’s singles, Nadal having won his in 2008 in Beijing.

Knee, foot and wrist injuries have taken their toll throughout his career, however, costing him 11 Grand Slam appearances.

After failing to reach a Slam semi-final in 2015 and 2016, some thought his greatest moments were behind him.

But Nadal won a record 10th French Open crown in 2017, paving the way for another title chase at the US Open in September.

Only Nadal, Pete Sampras and Ken Rosewall have achieved the feat of winning Grand Slam titles as teenagers, between the ages of 20 and 30.

Comments are closed.