I recently put Rafa up as being the greatest male player of all time! An accolade I’m sure he is aware of and quite possibly cherishes. What is currently a concern, is the fact that it seems Federer was made aware I had said this and is doing his best to make me look a twat! Nice job Roger! It’s on the line Rafa lad, you might well need to kick on again here to keep this decorated prize in your trophy cabinet! Pressure!
My relationships with Rafa had a topsy-turvy start, I was a big fan when he burst onto the scene and when he won his first French Open back in 2005, slightly livid that I was on Mariano Puerto at some fanciful price, but these things happen and Rafa was expected to serve him up in the final. For some reason afterwards, I didn’t seem to take to him so much. I thought he was overrated on grass for sure! I actually thought he was very lucky to make the final in 2006, I didn’t think he had beaten anyone, people said Agassi at the time, really????Robert Kendrick was two sets up against him, I wasn’t convinced. When I look back at it though what an effort, at only your third Wimbledon, on a surface that by nature should have been alien to him at the time. He didn’t need much time to bed in did he? He reached the final again the year after whilst still adapting to the other surfaces, improving all the time. Like most, I thought it was hilarious when Soderling mocked him for scratching his ass, I’m guessing he probably wouldn’t do that again in the situation again given the chance, tame the beast, don’t piss him off!
Something unbelievable unfolded at the time when I started to realise jealousy was playing a part in my apprehension. Let’s be honest, none of us would mind those guns, those exceptional good looks and the millions upon millions of women that fancy you!! Most of my exes have, so I had to deal with that one quite quickly. The moral here? Don’t be a hater! He’s has got the package and he’s got the world at his feet. Deal with it! Deep down I also knew I wanted that distinctive fist pump of his! Back with the Tennis, what unfolded was a Wimbledon Final that took tennis on to a new level. The 08 Wimbledon final was what I can only describe as what you would use a tube sock for! The standard and the intensity from the two players was a total joke, right from the word go. The first point giving us a taste of what we had to look forward to, ending in Nadal flashing a forehand winner down the line. The crowd and the BBC commentary, for some reason, made me laugh. So pumped! I don’t think anyone could quite believe what they were witnessing. Nadal went two sets up, Federer fought back to 2 sets all, the match being interrupted as we know by several rain interruptions. I remember thinking in the fifth this must be one of, if not the greatest match ever. I pretty much knew it meant Rafa had won me over as Federer obviously had me onside at this point. On falling backwards upon victory, in almost darkness and lights flashing all over the place, as a tennis connoisseur, I knew I’d seen a special match. The level never dropping between sets or rain delays for that matter. That is quite simply ridiculous! The end result was that Spaniards could play on grass and put that myth firmly to bed! Remarkable effort. This has been backed up even more by the fact he has won all four slams, conquering Federer and Djokovic on the hard courts as well. He’s become an all court player and his volleying has always been an underrated part of his game in my opinion. His dominance on clay could never be questioned until late, he has been predominantly been unreal. Nadal has been head and shoulders above everyone, especially when the tour has hit Paris and there may have been some questions that needed answering.
Since that first Wimbledon victory, I have always had a lot of admiration for him, the way he has applied himself throughout his career, work ethic and how he comes across as an icon. I don’t go necessarily by what players are like on-court, more how they come across off it. This guy oozes class in this department, always humble irrespective of the outcome, win or lose. I haven’t actually got any problem with his on-court persona either, certainly no more than I have had with anyone else anyway. Everything he has about him is a marketing dream and having him out of the game at times has proven that we all miss his presence both on and off the court. What Rafa brings to the court is unique, he has own distinctive style and what a style it is! I’ve tried to imagine what it would be like to play against him, it gives you nightmares. The forehand fizzing, fuzzing, twisting and turning, above my shoulders??? Nah. You’re alright ta! His reluctance to give up on any ball and make you play an extra 3/4 shots, it just doesn’t bear thinking about. Maybe come in off a good approach shot, and get passed. You get the impression?? Slugging it out blow for blow isn’t an option with my 20 a day policy! What has always amazed me about Rafa though, is his mental strength. I honestly don’t think I have seen anyone, Pistol Pete included that was that zoned in, he was relentless at his most dominant! I was in awe of that and still am. Sounds like there is a little man crush in here somewhere??
It’s going to be a big season for Rafa, no two ways about that. He’s fancied for the French Open again and that will be his first priority. Should he conquer this again it will set him up nicely for the remainder of the season and he will no doubt be able to relax a little more again. I actually think he has shown a few signs of tightness since returning, the Oz Open final being an example. Unusually for him, he let Federer back in from a winning position in the fifth and paid the ultimate price! The nerves are understandable, I certainly believe in the philosophy that players get more nervous as they get older, I think we see that with most of the top players. Getting through that shows just how great they actually are and I’m sure Rafa will prove this. His knees will always remain a concern and like I have said before, its one of the reasons for obviously modifying his game slightly. The signs are still looking good though, his hardcourt form this season has looked fine apart from when he’s played Roger. As they say, has the Nadal code been broken?? I think it would be very foolish to write Rafa off here personally and I would be amazed if he didn’t have something up his sleeve. As us Liverpool fans used to say ”In Rafa we trust”.
Andy Del Potro