Rafa Roundup: “Let’s not be like Rafa Nadal, let’s be Rafa Nadal”

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No. 1 is No. 1: Nadal needs to win only one more match to clinch his fourth year-end finish atop the Emirates ATP Rankings (also 2008, 2010, 2013 ). No. 2 is No. 31: The number of ATP World Tour Masters 1000 titles Nadal will have – which would be a record – if he wins the Rolex Paris Masters this week. He is currently tied with Serbian Novak Djokovic for the all-time lead at 30.

World No. 1 Rafael Nadal and No. 2 Roger Federer are both up for two player-voted categories: the Stefan Edberg Sportsmanship Award and Comeback Player of the Year. Federer has won the Sportsmanship award every year since 2004, with the exception of 2010, when the honours went to Nadal. Marin Cilic and Juan Martin del Potro round out the nominees in this category.

I want to join Andre Agassi and so many others in having Rafa as our role model and let me insist: let’s not be like Rafa Nadal, let’s be Rafa Nadal. Let’s be this person that gives his or her best in every little thing that we do. Doing this, who knows if one day we will outpace our role models, like Rafa did with his childhood hero Carlos Moya. Isn’t that what evolution is about?

Before addressing this question directly, let’s pause, put partisan politics on hold, and acknowledge your first paragraph. Here we are in 2017 and Federer and Nadal—their combined age approaching 70, their career head-to-head encounters approaching 40—are still ruling the roost. All hail the greatest rivalry in sports.

As for your GOAT/GOTY point, after Federer beat Nadal in Shanghai a lot of you brought up this up. I have a number of thoughts—some of which I have shared—but here’s the beauty: we don’t have to decide. Sometimes tennis presents counterfactuals that will never be answered with any certainty. (“How many Grand Slams would Monica Seles have won, were it not for Hamburg 1993?”) In this case, why not wait until after the World Tour Finals event in London—when we have a full complement of data points—and we can reassess.

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Rafa Roundup: “I make mistakes like everyone else. I am not the perfect son”

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“I grew up in a very normal environment and I still live this way. If I didn’t get a big head being 19, when all of a sudden everything happened and could go to my head, it won’t happen now when I am 31.”

“I am a normal and a common person. I do not see myself as a role model of anything,” explained Nadal. “I am a guy who plays tennis well. Things have worked out great, but I took it as something normal, as my family and people around me did. I have tried to have the right attitude on and off the court. But I make mistakes like everyone else. I am not the perfect son.”

“Carlos has been a great support. He came with excitement and also the belief that with a few things, I could improve my results. And it has helped,” Nadal told Spanish newspaper El Espanol.

“It has been a breath of fresh air, positive energy. We have changed the way we practice and for Toni it has been also good.”

#1 The Fedal Bromance: There was no doubt that Federer and Nadal would be the stars of the Laver Cup show, but they put on an incredible, public display of friendship that no one could have seen coming. It’s no small feat given they will be competing for year-end No. 1 very soon.

The NBA legend Steve Nash and the Premier League player Stuart Holden, shareholders of Real Mallorca, have visited the facilities of the Rafa Nadal Academy in Manacor. Nash and Holden have been able to see the world number 1 train session with Toni Nadal and Carles Moyà and then they have made a tour to know all the areas and the method of work of the enclosure; have even experienced the interactive museum.

I beat Rafael Nadal at something? Moya: We have a table game that we play a lot during the tournaments, so the US Open. Parchís.

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Rafa Roundup: The numbers don’t lie – Rafael Nadal is much more than King of Clay

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The Spaniard now has a combined 46 ‘Big Titles’ — a collection of Grand Slams, Masters 1000 events, and Nitto ATP Finals — putting him one behind Novak Djokovic’s 47 and within five of leader Roger Federer, who holds 51.

#7 He’s the first to pass $10 million in prize money in 2017. Nadal now has $11,264,905 for the year, jumping over Federer, who currently has $9,419,735. Third place is Zverev with $3,570,885.

The significance of this season is impossible to sum up with a stat sheet alone. Coming off a 2016 season in which he suffered his second wrist injury in three seasons and was forced to withdraw from the French Open after the second round, Nadal’s 10th win at Roland Garros in June was especially sweet. It was his first Grand Slam title since the 2014 French.

The Spaniard’s fans can muster plenty of evidence to support the case for their hero as the greatest player of all time, but the three-major deficit is a challenging disadvantage to surmount. One of the best arguments left to Mr Nadal’s supporters is that Mr Federer padded his statistics in the weak era of 2003-07, before Mr Djokovic and Mr Murray reached their primes, and when a young Mr Nadal was primarily a threat on clay courts.

It has been an incredible year, with Federer winning in Australia and at Wimbledon, where he won the title for an eighth time, and Nadal adding the US Open title to his 10th French Open crown.

Nadal is in the driving seat when it comes to No.1, with a lead of almost 2,000 points, but he knows there is still a lot to play for in the remaining two months of the season.

Q: “There is still a lot of tennis to be played, but at this moment, who is your men’s player of the year?” John Wertheim: We were debating this on Tennis Channel. I lean toward Nadal. Higher ranked. More Slam matches won. And—while it was validated by the Wimbledon title—doesn’t Federer earn some sort of markdown for his decision to skip the entire clay season? Jim Courier sided with Federer, citing the 3-0 head-to-head record. Honestly, I could go either way.

“Can Rafa beat Roger’s record? Basically it’s up to Rafa and how much he wants to play and how much he loves the game,” said Sampras, who sits third on the men’s all-time Grand Slam winners’ list behind Nadal and Federer. “If he said: ‘Hey guys, I’m gonna play until I’m at least 35’, I’d say he’s got a pretty good shot at doing it.

“There aren’t many challenges left, but there are some. He is a very competitive person, a very demanding person and that helps a lot. He will keep finding motivation and his biggest motivation will be to keep improving, keep evolving, stay competitive and he knows that if he can do that, the options to win tournaments and fight at the top will be there.”

“I think that Nadal has a very good chance to catch Roger because he’s gonna win the French Open again at least once or twice and suddenly you’re one or two away,” said Wilander.

”Do we think that Federer is going to win another slam next year when he turns 37? I don’t know. He can win another one maybe but Nadal has another four or five years and people are wrong when they think that he’s physically wearing himself down.”

“I always go on court respecting my opponents. I’m not worried about what happened in the past or not. I just think about what can happen now.” – Rafael Nadal

‘We will get to Federer’s 19, yes,’ he told Spanish radio station Cope.

‘I think it will happen. It’s difficult, but there is some more Roland Garros and I am confident other titles will come.

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Rafa Roundup: We are not ready to say goodbye yet, Uncle Toni!

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“I am honestly not thinking about it being the last one,” Toni Nadal said. “I’m not in the beyond. I’m entirely in the present right now, very happy to be in the final and that Rafael is in another final. I’m not thinking about not being here next year. I’ll think about it next year when I’m in Majorca. Nostalgia is for then, not for now.”

Toni and Rafael have been a pair like no other in the modern game. Toni was Rafael’s first teacher, giving him his first lesson at age 3 on the Spanish island of Majorca that the Nadals still call home. Toni has remained Rafael’s mentor for the last 28 years as Rafael has become one of the greatest tennis players of all time.

Nadal, who reclaimed the top spot on August 21, is defending just 100 ranking points after the US Open: 90 for a quarterfinal showing in Beijing, and 10 for a round-of-32 loss at the ATP World Tour Masters 1000 in Shanghai.

The 31-year-old’s only real competition for No. 1 is the 36-year-old Federer, who will move past Andy Murray and into the No. 2 spot on Monday. Like Nadal, Federer has a great opportunity to amass ranking points this fall. While Nadal has practically nothing to defend, Federer actually has nothing to defend, given his decision to end his 2016 season after Wimbledon.

Nadal is attempting to win at least two Grand Slam titles in a season for the fourth time in his career (3 in 2010, 2 in 2008, 2013). He is trying to win his first hard court singles title since January 2014 in Doha (d. Monfils). He has played 34 hard-court tournaments, reaching eight hard-court finals since his last title on the surface. Nadal has not faced a Top 20 opponent at the US Open and the last Grand Slam champion to do that was Pete Sampras at 2000 Wimbledon.

The problem for Anderson is that Rafa has been looking less and less troubled with each match at the Open. He found his game in the third round against Leonardo Mayer—the Argentine’s game bears more than a passing resemblance to Anderson’s—and played with his old swagger in his semifinal steamroll over Juan Martin del Potro. Anderson’s serve alone should allow him to stay close in sets, and it’s easy to imagine him wiping away a dozen break points with it. But Nadal has played 22 more major finals than Anderson. That may be the only stat you need to know for this one.

“He played very smart from the second until the end of the match, because I was just standing all the time on my left side and once he played down the line, he won the point.

“I think at the beginning of the match, he was playing all the time to my backhand, trying to see how good is my backhand at this moment. It was good, but it wasn’t good enough to play a four-set, five-set match. And I couldn’t make any winners in the match, which you must do a lot of winners against Rafa.”

Hard courts will never be Nadal’s favorite surface. That will always be his native clay, to which his game is so naturally suited. But like few others, Nadal has continually tweaked his game, adapting it to compete and win on a surface that began as a challenge.

Had Rafael Nadal had never played a professional tournament in his life on dirt, he would still have a Hall-of-Fame career.

The world No. 1 has been uniquely willing to treak his game and work to improve, rather than stubbornly stick with something that has worked in the past.

Rafael Nadal and Garbine Muguruza ensured a Spanish double at the top of the rankings next week, with Nadal set to stay No. 1 in the ATP rankings and Muguruza reaching the top spot in the WTA rankings for the first time in her career.

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  • Rafa on fire 🙂 Love it!

🙂 #usopen thanks for this. #newyork #final

A post shared by Rafa Nadal (@rafaelnadal) on

Rafa Roundup: “I’m still the same person I’ve always been”

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And so Federer and Nadal, two men who last year slipped down the ranks via shredded schedules and serious injuries, and were ranked 17 and nine respectively when they contested the Australian title, are now favourites to top the rankings from next week until the end of the season.

And that is, in the context of their history, an extraordinary prospect. For they held the No1 ranking between them from February 2004 until July 2011, and together they also filled the top two places unbroken for 211 weeks from 2005 to 2009. They went on to be the top two ranked men at year-end for six straight seasons: 2017 could make it seven.

After dominating the clay-court portion of the ATP Tour and winning a record 10thFrench Open title, Nadal is poised to take the No. 1 ranking for the first time since June 23, 2014 if he reaches the semifinals at Jarry Park.

The top spot is available because the current No. 1, Andy Murray, failed to defend his Wimbledon title — he lost to American Sam Querrey in the quarterfinals — and he’s not in a position to add any points because he’s hobbled by a hip injury.

Nadal has a 46-7 record this year, with four titles, and is currently 294 points behind Murray.

“Soy el mismo de siempre, una persona normal. Vivo en el mismo sitio de siempre, hago las mismas cosas que he hecho toda la vida y lo que más me gusta es perderme unos días en el mar. Soy conocido porque juego al tenis y salgo en los medios, pero soy el mismo Rafa de siempre”, razona. Pues eso: Rafael Nadal Parera.

(I’m the same person I have always been, just a normal person. I live in the same place, do the same things all my life and what I really enjoy is to spend time near the sea. I’m famous because I play tennis and I’m in the media quite a lot now, but I’m the same Rafa as always.)

While vacationing with friends in Ibiza, Nadal relaxed in a pair of white swim trunks with black side stripes. And that right there is a detail as important as having a button on your best blazer. It’s those centimeter-wide double stripes running up his outer thighs that make this a winning style move. Without them, his white suit would take on the silhouette of a puffy pair of boxers. But with their help, this suit lengthens and slims Nadal’s already trim physique.

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Rafa Roundup: What can we expect from Rafael Nadal at Wimbledon?

AELTC/Florian Eisele.

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Let’s see what’s going on this year,” Nadal, still sweating profusely from his practice session, told reporters at Wimbledon.

“I know is always difficult,” said the 15-time Grand Slam winner. “I am excited to be playing again here, in a tournament that I really love. I really enjoy playing. But at the same time I tell you, is a tournament that you can go out very early.”

“It’s true that what happened with my knees in 2012 was more difficult (but) at the same time, it’s true that in 2014 I played a good event when I lost in the fourth round against Nick. But I had my chances, too. After that, last year I couldn’t play (and) 2015 was not my year, of course.”

“The clay-court season was exhausting, especially mentally,” admitted Moya, a former World No. 1. “Rafa was listening to his body and his health is his priority, even though he badly wanted to play at Queen’s. We know he’s not going to have matches under his belt, but he’ll arrive mentally and physically fresh at Wimbledon. He has made a great transition to the grass.”

“I know that my knees have hindered me a lot on grass in the past few years,” said Nadal. “They stopped me from competing at the maximum level. The switch to grass has been progressing well and the test will come later, but I am confident that my knees are going to hold up. Then the results as always depend on many factors.”

What are Nadal’s chances? On the one hand, he hasn’t made it past the fourth round at Wimbledon since 2011. On the other, he’s playing his best tennis in three years, and even in the years when he went deep at Wimbledon he had to survive several close calls in the early rounds. If he can survive one or two this year, he’ll likely be tough to beat in the second week.

So even though Nadal, along with Federer, has been the best in the world this year, it’s not fair to expect a title from him in England. Could he win the whole thing? Of course—if you’ve watched him play even a little bit this year, you know that he’s a serious threat at every tournament he enters. It shouldn’t be final or bust, though, or even semifinal or bust. Realistically, a fair expectation for Rafa is a run to the quarterfinals. Anything more would be quite an achievement. An earlier exit would certainly qualify as a disappointment.

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Rafa Roundup: Rafa hopes his “knees hold up well” on the grass

Photo via GQ

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“If I have pain in my knees, then I know from experience that it’s almost impossible,” he said. “After 2012 what happened with my knees has made it tougher and tougher for me to compete on grass.”

“It’s been a while since I played a good Wimbledon,” Nadal admitted. “I love grass. Everybody knows that. It’s a surface that I really enjoyed playing on a lot. I missed playing Wimbledon again [last year], so I hope that my knees will hold up well and that I can have the preparation that I really need and want.”

He added: “I need to have strong and powerful legs to play well at Wimbledon. If I don’t feel that, then probably my chances are not good. But if I am healthy and I am able to have the right preparation and feel healthy during Wimbledon, then I will probably have my chances to play well.”

But Rafael Nadal reminds us that the best in any sport exceed not just our expectations of what an athlete can do physically, but what a human can do mentally. Nadal cares, with superhuman seriousness, about every game, every shot. You cannot coach a player to want to win as much as Nadal wants to win. It has to arise from some roiling, unquenchable, internal compulsion to be great.

What we saw over the last two weeks has been a nearly annual ritual since 2005, and barring catastrophic injury, it isn’t going anywhere soon. At 31, Rafa is not what he was at 21; revisit the highlights and this man wouldn’t be confused for his younger, even more yoked, faster self. But it is still more than good enough to dominate the current ecosystem. So long as he keeps finding ways to return to the tour healthy, and so long as the younger generation continues to struggle under the onerous slab of talent that is the Big Four, these titles will still be Nadal’s to win (and bite). Ten is a nice, clean number, but it is hardly a finish line unto itself.

Much has changed since his first victory at Roland Garros in 2005, the year of his first appearance in the tournament. Back then, Nadal was partial to sleeveless shirts and pirate pants, Court Philippe Chatrier had no aerial camera, and a fan could enter Roland Garros Stadium without being frisked by security officials.

The world is very different, but the men’s game has remained surprisingly resistant to change. Nadal’s career-long rival, Roger Federer, beat him to win the Australian Open in January at age 35. Now Nadal has won another French Open, closing the gap with Federer in the standings for career Grand Slam singles titles.

Nadal is 79-2 at Roland Garros. What may be most impressive is the fact that, on a court where he had never been beloved, he has won all 10 finals he has played without ever having to go to a fifth set. He has tamed his nerves every time, weathered rallies by his opponents every time, and closed the door early every time.

How does a player win a tournament 10 times? I said it after Rafa won La Décima in Monte Carlo this spring, and I’ll say it again after his La Décima in Paris: By playing every match as if it’s his last, and celebrating every win as if it’s his first.

“I was terribly surprised to win the Australian Open and then back it up in Indian Wells and Miami,” Federer said, “but I think Rafa winning the French Open is less of a surprise because he’s already done it nine times before, now 10, which is absolutely gigantic. It was incredible, really, simply that.

“I was hoping that he was going to dominate the clay court season like he did in the olden days.”

PHOTOS: French Open: Rafael Nadal’s Roland Garros evolution | CNN

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