From loving Roger Federer to adoring Rafael Nadal

A huge fan of Rafael Nadal, Lubna Qureishi wrote these thoughts about our champ for

If I had a dream job it would be sportscaster. A sportscaster dedicated to Rafael Nadal, that is. That’s how much I love him. But it didn’t start out like that.

I never played much tennis as a kid, growing up in the ‘80s, a few lessons here and there. I would sometimes watch Wimbledon and catch John McEnroe erupting at the chair umpire. But I rediscovered the game in 2001. Commentators like Chris Evert and Jim Courier and technological advancements like Hawkeye and the calculation of serve speed and topspin really helped me appreciate the game and its players.

And soon I made another discovery: Roger Federer. I saw him upset world number one Pete Sampras in a Wimbledon fourth round match in 2001, and in 2003 he won his first Wimbledon title. But then he kept on winning, tournament after tournament. Who could resist Federer, defeating (the word beating doesn’t fit his style) every opponent with swan-like grace, not a hair out of place, not a bead of sweat? That suave invincibility! And his post-match interviewsin multiple languagesso gracious. I hadn’t become aware that the majors were all played on different surfaces.

One day on TV I happened to see Federer playing in the French Open final in June 2008. How fun, I thought, I’ll just sit down and watch the elegant Federer win in straight sets again. Only it wasn’t looking like that. Whatever groundstroke or backhand slice Federer offered, a blistering reply would inevitably come back, neutralizing the shots and turning offense into defense (come on, am I not sounding like a sportscaster?). Nadal dominated the world number one. Who was this guy who could actually ruffle the feathers of The Swan? Who was this intense, smoldering Spaniard, wearing long shorts and no sleeves?

I didn’t like how this opponent seemed to be pushing Federer to his limit. My suave, swan-like Swiss actually broke a sweat, losing in straight sets. Who was this guy disrupting the tennis world order? Rafael Nadal. Don’t worry, I told myself, that was clay. Clay is clay. And grass is Federer’s. And my anticipation for Wimbledon began. Of course, I felt this tournament would be a breeze for The Swan. He had never lost a Wimbledon final thus far. I kept track of his matches during that fortnight (love that word) and it was beginning to look like Federer and Nadal could meet in the final. This didn’t worry me at all. The press was abuzz, however, talking about Nadal and whether his clay court prowess would translate onto grass that year.

“Could this be the year you beat Roger Federer at Wimbledon?” a reporter asked Nadal one day at a press conference mid-tournament. They had played each other in the final in 2006 and 2007. I remember his response was something like this: “I don’t know if I can beat him here, I have never won here and he’s won six timesno, fiveI sure hope he doesn’t win a sixth,” he said with a smile. His answer charmed the room. His smile caught me off guard.

The day of the men’s final arrived. After all the hype, everyone was anticipating a marathon of a match. I woke up at six a.m. to watch it. Would it be the suave, swan-like Swiss, or the smoldering Spaniard (who, I noted, actually looked kind of great in white)? I went to another corner of the house so I wouldn’t wake up my sleeping family members with my passionate cheers. However, there was one uncomfortable feeling that was new, that had been simmering—the feeling that I didn’t actually know whom I would be cheering for! What was going on with me? I wondered. Nadal took the first set. I couldn’t believe it. And then the second. The Swan was two sets down in a final! My four-year-old son came into the room.

“Mom, Federer’s losing,” he said, brow furrowed with confused astonishment.

“I know,” I said with a tense breath, and I realized to my shock, that I was fine with it.

With Federer being behind. More than fine. By this time the rest of my family joined me in front of the TV. When The Swan took the third set and was mounting his comeback, I knew for sure where I stood. I began cheering for Rafa (I could now call him that). Loudly. “You got this! Come on! Do it!” Under my breath I wished The Swan would double fault. As they watched my transformation in real time, as if it were its own sporting event, my family looked at me in disbelief. You might even say in horror. “Mom, what happened to you? You liked Federer so much,” my son asked. Rafael Nadal.

That’s what happened. The match continued. Federer and Nadal tried to outsmart each other by adjusting their games, outdo each other during long rallies, and outlast each other as dusk fell. There were deuces, agonizing tiebreaks, match points lost, not to mention interventions from nature. I rooted for Rafa till the very end, when he closed it out amid the gasps of the awestruck crowd, beating Federer in a five set Wimbledon thriller. It was beyond victory; Nadal managed to dethrone Federer in his house. Everyone was shocked; the new champion himself looked stunned, almost apologetic, as he held the trophy among the flashes of cameras. My own marathon of emotions left me exhausted and my voice hoarse, as I bore witness to greatness unseating greatness.

Nadal played fiercely and fearlessly, but that match wasn’t the exact moment when my loyalty changed. It truly began when I heard him at the press conference. English is not Nadal’s first language but that didn’t matter because humility needs no translation. And to this day his whole vibe is what makes me a fan: his game, athleticism, humor, humility, humanity, positive attitude, and yeah, he can do elegant things too—have you seen him in a suit? I became a wild, true, unabashed Nadal fan, following his every tournament, cheering loud enough to wake up the household as I watched the Australian Open at three a.m., and taking a red eye from San Francisco to attend the 2019 US Open final. My 80-year-old parents even watch him play; in fact, my mom supports my intense admiration:

“I have something for you,” she said, handing me a full-page New York Times ad of a glistening Nadal in Tommy Hilfiger underwear (briefs not boxers; I believe it is a significant detail).

When I need a boost, I google his name for the latest story. His wins intoxicate me with glee. His losses gut me. My friends think of me when he wins (a great association), even congratulate me. I have nothing to do with his victories, though I wish I knew him personally. I was devastated that he had to withdraw from Wimbledon 2022, his hopes for a calendar slam dashed. But I’ll always have Wimbledon 2008. They call it the best tennis match in history; I agree. I also call it the match that heralded my new allegiance.

From that day on it was Vamos, Rafa! And always will be.



  1. Je pourrais faire un copié collé de vos propos concernant Rafa et Roger ; moi aussi , j’ai supporté Roger par défaut mais quand j’ai vu Rafa à RG , j’ai été conquise immédiatement
    J’aime toujours beaucoup Roger mais Rafa est mon idole depuis 2005 et merci pour votre témoignage

  2. Lovely story. Thank you! All the Rafa parts resonate with me deeply. I was never a Federer fan even though I completely agree with the way in which he is described I this story.

    Before Rafa I was a Borg fan and after that just this one that one Agassi, Safin, Hewitt but not really a fan. Wish Borg had played on and coming to think of it Safin too.

    Nothing like Rafa – just love him, always have have everything since he became a pro.

    VAMOS my Champ, Rafa!!!

    • Wow! Lubans story is a carbon copy of most of us on this site! Every word is like it came from my very own thoughts! Watching Rafa in the middle of the night screaming when he made a drop shot that didn’t work! NO NO Rafa not another drop shot putting my head in a pillow so I wouldn’t awaken anyone. My friends & family also call and congratulate me when he wins or gives their condolences if he loses ! They know how much I adore Rafa…I would hop on to this site during a commercial & read all the posts ! So many are still here! Margo was my go to! I still love reading her very articulate posts!
      My first encounter with Rafa was Rome 2005 when he played the Argentine Coria it was an epic match but it wasn’t till 2008 (just like Lubana) that I because a hard Core Rafa Fan!

  3. This resonates with me so much! I was at sea during the Wimbledon match so for me the transformation came at the Australian Open 2009. Since then I have been lucky enough to visit his Academy in Mallorca and get a photo with him in the gym—priceless! Watching him play, fight and win gives me so much joy ❤️.

  4. A lovely story and beautifully written by Lubna. Gosh! Everything that Lubna describes about Roger and Rafa I feel too. It’s as though she had written my story. I loved Roger’s majestic style and grace around the court. Then came the switch. As soon as Rafa came on the scene, I was drawn to him like a magnet, just loving everything about him.

    I’ve been watching (and playing a bit) tennis for longer than I care to remember, but became a Rafa fan during 2007 Wimbledon and felt so sad for him when he lost in a hard fought final against Roger. Like many, I was glued to the tv during the 2008 Wimbledon final, only moving from my chair twice to go to the bathroom. My family would wonder in and out of the living to watch a few games here and there, but essentially, I was a lone spectator in my home. A wonderful victory for Rafa that launched him onto the world stage.
    It’s been a privilege to watch Rafa’s career develop and fifteen years later, I’m just as excited as ever about him and all he does. Rafa for ever!

  5. Such a lovely write up and yes its like the same story of mine…. Rafa has become a part of life and like Lubna says whenever I feel awful just google and fish out for some write up about Rafa which will bring a warmth to heart. Thank you Rafa for being Rafa

  6. Reafiytjid article was like reading my own story. Especially the Rafa Hilfiger ‘briefs’ pics! ❤️💪Rafa

  7. I remember that Wimbledon Final so well. A friend was in hospital and we were texting each other during the match, both excited and wanting the fiery one to win. Since then I’ve wanted no one else to win but Rafa. He is everything you say – a professional, respectable sportsman and a warm, caring human being. Oh I almost forgot – an amazing tennis player too.

  8. OMG, I could relate to you. I think I’m not just a fan of Rafa. I’m a Rafanatic and my French husband let me indulge with it. If only you know how I feel when he loses. Indescribable! I google him too several times a day to read the latest about him. During his match, I’m glued on the TV not even wanting to take a break so beforehand I have everything ready infront of me, my snacks and water and gone to the washroom already.

  9. I love how you remember vividly how you became a fan. Me, I just knew that when I watched Rafa’s games, that’s when I became interested in Tennis. One instance I do love most, he won the match and he was asked by the reporters coz his opponent said he had the game under his control, and said he didn’t even have to do anything extraordinary to win… but he lost to Rafa. Rafa’s answer was very simple – He just said, Okay… that’s when he had me! 🤣

  10. Yes it was a very touching and mixed emotional moments when two RR meet each other specially when theyll meet in slamfinals.i love tennis and i like both of them. But of course i praised the winner…tennis teaches human being how to be smart ,love and be loved by fans watching over and over again…more power!!!

  11. Lubna Quereishi, yes – I know the feeling too well.

    Love your sportscasting, writing style – very literary.

  12. I watched his game beating Roger in Miami and French Open 2005 since then he is my one and only favorite tennis player he retires I will retire with him vamos Rafa !!,,

  13. Loved this piece. I admire Federer but I love Rafa. He’s a tad nuts, no? I love “the smoldering Rafa”. Exactly. Raw physicality and humility vs grace. I also yell and cheer at the TV.

  14. Avid Rafa fan here! Somehow, I never was a fan of anyone else but him. I am proud to be his fan too considering what a great human being he is. My friends also congratulate me when he wins especially the Slams and when I’m feeling generous, I treat them to celebrate! Thank you for this article. Very entertaining!

  15. Really enjoyed this story. ❤ Lubna

    I started following tennis thanks to Andy Roddick, but since he couldn’t against Roger I fall in love with Rafa’s game. Now I respect them both, but I’m a die hard Rafan.

  16. I do not know how I would feel if Roger was still playing at his best. But for now, for me it is Rafa vs everyone else.

  17. Hey, Lubna…absolutely recognize these stages of evolution in following the elegance of the Swan to the breathtaking physicality of Rafa. Roger was his immaculate self at Wimby, and Rafa fought like the matador
    he is. A golden era-how lucky we are👑👑what a treasure that autograph is now! Thanks for sharing your
    R and R moments🙏🏼🫶

  18. Brilliant so like me but I never liked Roger at the beginning and when I saw Rafa play in 2006 I was hooked.Rafa also thought me tolive Federer and respect tennis so much. I have cried shouted hidden behind sofas that’s Rafa. Tennis will never be the same without him. X

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