First, let me say that I am suitably impressed by Mr. Nadal’s polarizing presence on the ATP tour. I cannot think of another player who inspires tennis fans to such dizzying heights of passionate devotion or disgust (depending on which side of the fence you fall on).
In fact, now that I think on it, I can’t ever remember another player drawing the sort of reactions that Rafa does. John McEnroe was polarizing, but that was intentional on his part. McEnroe played with a baffling sort of brilliance that made you want to like him despite your best efforts to hold his horrifically childish on-court behavior against him.
There was no love-hate with Jimmy Connors because people really just hated him. Ivan Lendl inspired little more than vague dislike and Pete Sampras rarely generated passion of any sort, great champion though he was.
Andre Agassi had his share of detractors, but I think that had more to do with the fact that he was popular for reasons other than his prowess on a tennis court. Nothing inspires dislike as quickly as gaining support from a group of people who say things like “What’s a deuce?” and “Where’s Andre? This is boring.”
Nadal shares none of those characteristics. He is affable off court, well-behaved on-court, he generates passion of his own and in others, and he has a remarkable amount of tennis skill and is generally a gifted athlete. I sometimes wonder if people are simply put off by a player who refuses to acknowledge his own talent…
Anyway, I bring all of this up because, though I’ve always known that people either love or hate Nadal, I wasn’t completely aware of the depth of those feelings until he came back from his injury.
At first, it wasn’t so bad. Nadal didn’t play well in Vina del Mar, and that final loss to Horacio Zeballos seemed to delight the haters.
“Ha!” they said. “There will be no French Open for Nadal this year!” (On a side note, have you ever noticed how obsessed people are with Rafa losing the French? I find this peculiar, but that’s a different blog for a different day…)
Rafa, unflappable as ever, viewed the loss as inevitable after such a long layoff and moved along to Sao Paolo. Where he won. Against David Nalbandian. Easily. And though he wasn’t yet playing well, the detractors scratched their heads.
“Well”, they said. “This is a Mickey Mouse event” (which is what they call 250 level tournaments that lack serious competition). “Just wait until he gets to Acapulco and he has to play David Ferrer”.
But a funny thing happened in Acapulco. He continued to improve. He got that gleam in his eye. You know what I’m talking about, right? It’s the one that looks suspiciously like determination and confidence. And as he worked his way through the draw, and as Ferrer worked his way through the draw, the haters rubbed their hands in glee. The delight lasted just about as long as it took for Nadal to dish out a bagel in the first set.
And after that the excuse was, “Well, it was only clay. Just you wait until he gets to hard courts”. We waited. To hardcourts he came. And he dispatched Ernests Gulbis (which I still contend was his finest win of the week), Roger Federer, Tomas Berdych and Juan Martin Del Potro to capture his first hard court title since 2010.
Color the tennis world shocked. And impressed. Well, most of us were impressed. I was still treated to a discourse about how the win wasn’t important because he didn’t beat Andy Murray or Novak Djokovic.
Someone else told me that “obviously” he hadn’t been injured at all, and still another proposed an intricate conspiracy theory (I choose to think that he did so for my entertainment) that involved tournament owner Larry Ellison, the court surface and a budding bromance (that may or may not also include Roger Federer).
So with all of the hoopla and emotion and the devotion and the hatred for the man from Mallorca, it would be easy to forget that his return was, as my title suggests, a genius move on the part of his team.
Anyone who thinks that the start in Vina del Mar and the finish in Indian Wells wasn’t carefully orchestrated doesn’t know team Nadal very well.
Consider the following: if the goal is to gradually work your way into form so that you are (hypothetically) ready for the European clay swing, what better place to begin a comeback than Vina del Mar, which is notoriously low on opposition?
Move on to Sao Paolo, where the competition is slightly more difficult and then to Acapulco, which features two Spanish clay courters who will actually put you through your paces. I doubt Team Rafa expected the Ferrer final to be the demolition that it was…then again, I don't think any of them were complaining either.
Don’t misunderstand me. I think Rafa would have attempted to play Australia if he could have gotten in a warm-up tournament, but all the better for him that he didn’t. He worked his way into form on his favorite surface before moving to the hardcourt that suits his game best.
These were tactics at their finest, and anybody who doesn’t tip their hat to that level of foresight and wisdom is probably just disgusted that it worked so well.
Sat 06/07 06:31
Tennistalk says farewell
Thu 06/06 04:05
Novak Djokovic's unsung hero
Tue 21/05 15:52
Another Federer and Nadal match disappoints
Fri 17/05 18:03
Bill Tilden and the effects of moral bankruptcy on a legacy
Tue 19/03 21:01
Professor Federer teaches us a thing or two
Mon 18/03 15:43
Nadal makes the cleverest comeback in tennis history
Fri 01/02 22:00
Nadal's return at Vina del Mar
Thu 15/11 16:54
Federer and company make no room at the top for youth
Tue 11/09 20:24
Murray joins the ranks of Grand Slam elite
Fri 17/08 19:45
There is something about Roger Federer
Mon 13/08 23:05
Tennistalk is in Cincinnati again
Tue 12/06 16:21
The French Open, Nadal's personal playground
Wed 09/05 14:58
Novak Djokovic takes up skating at the Madrid ice rink
Thu 29/03 14:30
Nadal and Spain give French TV a punch in the mouth
|1. Djokovic||12 500 pts|
|2. Murray||8 750 pts|
|3. Federer||8 670 pts|
|4. Ferrer||6 970 pts|
|5. Nadal||6 385 pts|
Scan QR code to access Unibet mobile.
Bet on Sports wherever you are and whenever you like, with Unibet's quick and simple mobile client you can place bets, check results and see live odds.
For more info about QR codes & scanners click here.