Over the past 5 years, we have seen some of the most incredible fights in tennis history to earn the trophy. While it is true that every top level player works hard, it is hard to argue that anybody works harder than Rafael Nadal. Many of his peers have often described practice sessions as having a similar intensity to a real match. 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. 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 last 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. It was truly one of the most out-of-this-world 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 an opponent who was pretty much the de facto 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 just 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 against non-big 3 opposition would not be a pass mark in his head. However, the problem was that this particular player was playing lights-out just a month or two prior. All of these thoughts would have been swimming around in the heads of even the most optimistic of Nadal fans.
All of the rational excuses were also flying. 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 right to. It defies logic. This is what it takes to be the best of them all. 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 in life a tennis player has to delay in their personal life. For so many players, the reward for their work is never realised. However, there is something so satisfying 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.
There are very few matches in history which will give you goosebumps just thinking about the result. The US Open 2019 was exactly this. In many finals in the past, the crowd would just sit patiently for the formality which was the end of the match. Many times in the past, there was never really a coin toss or doubt as to who would lift the winners trophy by some stage in the match. Straight set and 4 set grand slam final wins have often gone this way. It is the winner takes all feeling of major finals which truly makes tennis the competitive sport many idolise. In 2019, Daniil Medvedev saved championship point when the stakes were the highest, and made Rafael Nadal dig unbelievably deep to have a chance to win the US Open. Then when the momentum was all Medvedev late in the 5th set, Nadal somehow flipped the momentum 180 degrees and suddenly was the better player again. This is such a hard thing to do-and when you factor in Nadal’s record in hardcourt slam finals in the 2010s, this was even more so an almighty hill to climb back up on. However, he did it.
All in all, what grand slam finals did a player have to dig deepest in to secure a victory?