Can you believe it? Astonishingly, yet another year is already ready to close on the tennis world. Now that the 4 grand slams for the year have come to pass, arguably some of the most memorable tennis in a long long time was played at the very first major of the year. Whether you like Nadal’s game, or not, it is impossible to argue that this year in tennis has not been special. While for many many tennis players, the year has sort of come come and go (almost like everybody else at work, where the calendar keeps flipping but mostly much is the same), for Nadal, 2022 brought him something to remember for a lifetime.
While it is true that every top level player works hard, it is hard to argue that anybody works harder than Nadal. Hell, even his peers have described practice sessions with Nadal having the same intensity as a real match. After a whole off-season preparing meticulously for another season, every player enters the Australian Open in a shape to win the Australian Open. Segueing into this, what can be most disappointing for a player is to then have an early exit on night 1 or 2 in the first round of the opening major of the year. Why? Simply because the next tournament seems to be eons away. Hours spent in the gym, on the court, in recovery, day after day in the offseason just poured down the drain with a few backhand misses, a few forehand shanks, a few mental lapses under the heat.
However- it is this very aspect, the mental aspect of the game, which nobody can prepare for over a few short weeks before a major starts. Thus this is where Rafael Nadal comes into the equation. Winning a major is a serious case of survival of the fittest, both mentally and physically. On January 30 of this year, Rafael Nadal went into what seemed like the last hour of the Australian Open, down 2 sets: 6-2 7-6 3-2 40-0. Many fans felt like the end would arrive within the next 3 games. The thought process of many fans? “The Australian Open was pretty good this year, but unfortunately Medvedev is the number 1 player, and he just had Nadal’s number tonight.
What came on the other end of this point is the entire purpose of this piece. One of the most extraordinary things you will ever witness. The extraordinary mental game which Rafael Nadal possesses, to hang in when he’s being beat by someone far better in form, against someone who is pretty much the number 1 player in the world. Then factor in that his opponent just beat Novak Djokovic on hard courts at the very last major. Factor in that Nadal just came back from an extended injury layoff. For any normal person, all of these things would be flying around in their head. The panic would set it in. Add in the fact that we all know how much Nadal really cared about this match. This match wasn’t being played by a guy who went on a dream run that would just be happy to make the final. This is a man that has won 20 grand slams. Losing a grand slam final that he made against the non-big 3 would not be a pass mark. However, the problem is this non-big 3 player is playing amazingly! All of these thoughts were swimming through the head of fans.
All of the rational excuses were also flying through every fans head. He just recovered from Covid. He is tired. He is 35 and his opponent is 25. However, the beauty of this man is that he never seems to give in. Even when he has every reason to. It defies logic. However, this is what is takes to make every year count. All of that hard work in the gym. All of the things he could have been doing with his life had he already retired. All of the important things a tennis player has to delay in their personal life. Factor in that these guys rarely get to celebrate a New Years for a decade on end.
For so many players, the reward for their work is never realised. However, there is something so satisying about seeing someone get their dues. We never get to see many players repeat their efforts, It is so hard. Yet for Nadal, we got to see him drop to his knees again and hold the biggest prize this sport has to offer.