Victorious Nadal with passion to make him all-time great
It took 24 years for a man to arrive at Roland Garros and challenge the great Bjorn Borg for the moniker of the best clay-court player ever but after that man, Rafael Nadal, won his eighth title in Paris with a comprehensive 6-3, 6-2 6-3 victory over fellow Spaniard David Ferrer, it may well take another quarter or even half a century before another player who dominates like him.
Nadal became the first player ever to win eight titles at one Grand Slam – ahead of both Roger Federer and Pete Sampras at Wimbledon. Last year, he passed six-time Roland winner Bjorn Borg with his seventh title. This year, he put even more distance in between himself and the legendary Swede with a brilliant, passionate attack, overcoming No. 1 Novak Djokovic in a 9-7 in the fifth set in a semi-final that will go down as one of the greatest matches ever played on Philippe Chatrier Court. Then in the final, he took everything that Ferrer threw at him and pounded it right back with fury.
Only one player of his generation, Robin Soderling in 2009, has been able to register a victory over him at Roland Garros. The left-hander has beaten every one of his top rivals in Paris: Djokovic, Federer, Andy Murray and Ferrer.
“If he continues that way, who is to stop him?” Ferrer asked. That player needs to be more than good, he needs to be very great. Nadal has redefined the meaning of successful red clay-court tennis in the 21st century. His formula includes speed, balance and steely defense. It features a left-handed forehand that he can curl inside every line with sonic speed, or hit with so much topspin on it that it’s near impossible to respond to with a winner off of it if the shot lands deep. It includes a twisting serve that usually results in a weak reply that can be buried for a winner. It includes a competent net game, an efficient drop shot, a steady, effective and improving backhand and a library’s worth of strategic knowledge. Perhaps most importantly, it includes a constant yearning for improvement, a heart the size of a continent, an enormous amount of self-belief and constant commitment.
“If you don't feel that you can improve, you know nothing about life, because nothing is perfect in this life,” said Nadal after winning his 12th Grand Slam title. “You can improve always in every way. And in tennis for sure you can keep improving. But if you keep improving, (it) doesn't mean you will win more. Winning or losing depends on different facts, mental facts, a lucky, fresh mentality. I go to practice with a goal, (namely) things that I think I need to do better to keep being competitive against the best players. And eight times here is a lot. But sure I will keep practicing with the same passion and intensity to bring my tennis to the highest level possible. As I always say, I don't know if I can do it, the only thing I am sure of is I will try.”
After winning his seventh Roland Garros title last year, Nadal’s knee began to ache and he barely managed to compete at Halle and Wimbledon, where he lost in the second round. He was in so much pain that he was forced to take the next seven months off to rehabilitate his injury. He returned in February at a small tournament in Vina del Mar in Chile, and since then he has won seven of nine titles. He never doubted his tennis, even if he wasn’t sure how his knee would respond.
“I am a positive guy” he said. “But doubts are part of this life. People who don't have are so arrogant. Doubts are in everything. Nothing is clear in this world. So I for sure have doubts, but I work as much as I can to be here. So that's the only thing I can do. I can have doubts, yes, but if I don't work, it's sure that I will not be back.”
When it comes it comes contending for titles, the 27-year-old Nadal appears to be insatiable. He says he stays motivated through his passion for the sport. He has fun on court and loves to compete.
As long as he maintains that desire, he’ll be a major factor at Roland Garros until he finally hangs up his tennis shoes.
“Practicing sports at a very high level and fighting in very special situations like on Centre Court here at Roland Garros, this is extraordinary,” he said. “These are things I was watching on TV when I was a kid. I thought, ‘Oh, my God. I hope I can make it on such a court.’ My dream became reality. But it takes many years to achieve that. When I'm fed up – and this will happen eventually – I'll accept it and be very happy to do something different. As long as I have this passion for sport, as long as I have fun playing tennis, I'll do it.”