Rafael Nadal’s early exit from Wimbledon launched a thousand articles. Headline articles and tennis followers chatted about his loss, with talk running the gamut from concern to outright doom.
What will happen to Nadal?
With Nadal there rarely are easy explanations. His losses are stormy and cast with turbulence.
How did he congratulate his opponent? Is he signing autographs to pretend he is classy? Is his career finished? Will he attend the Spain-Italy UEFA Eurocup final?
To reach consensus about Nadal’s latest loss and immediate future is like assuming that all colors of clay provide equal conditions.
Even solid reasoning can facilitate a slippery debate.
The Spanish Tragedy
Part of the conundrum with interpreting a Nadal loss is that he always gives straightforward, blunt answers. This is unacceptable to media hounds and armchair sports fanatics, who all relish playing armchair psychologist and banging out new, unfounded theories.
Consider Nadal’s remark following his Wimbledon loss to Lukas Rosol, reported by Mid-Day.com:
I played against an inspired opponent and I am out. That’s all. It’s not a tragedy. It’s only a tennis match. At the end, that’s life. There are much more important things. Sure, I wanted to win, but I lost. It’s not a tragedy.
Translation: Let's not make too much out of one loss.
There’s really not a lot here to offer speculation except that Nadal may be familiar with classic tragedy. Or maybe it’s a veiled attempt to disclose his admiration for Thomas Kyd’s (a contemporary of William Shakespeare) The Spanish Tragedy.
After all, this was a play about plotting and revenge.
What Would Rafa Say?
So where does Nadal stand with the following five vitally important career questions?
These will be posed and answered (hypothetically) with sincere Nadal directness but without the outlandish guesswork of those who must extrapolate the rest of his career based on one loss.
First question: Rafa, does this loss devastate you, and how will you recover?
You asked two questions. I am not devastated. That’s all. I must rest my knees in ice and come back to play another day. It’s not tragedy. I have dinner tonight with family. We will be eating paella and discussing the mountain peaks and waterfalls near the Jamaican Iberostar resorts.
Have you lost your mental edge over Novak Djokovic and the rest of the ATP tour?
No. Losing a match is half of tennis. It means I did not win. It is not life. If I lose in tennis it does not mean I lose in life. That is all.
What about the Olympics? Do you think you can win the gold medal again?
I will be competing. It is an honor to represent my country, and I will do my best. I always compete, and I always do my best, so nothing new.
How do you feel about the hard courts season this summer? Can you win the U.S. Open?
Hard courts are bad on the knees. We need more clay court events, as I often explain. If two Grand Slam events were clay and one on hard courts, I would have the most Grand Slam wins in history, no? We would see how the hard-court specialists could win with only two months on their surface.
I did win the U.S. Open in 2010. I will try to win it again, but if I do not, it’s not a tragedy. I will do my best for my fans. That is all.
When will you retire?
I will retire when I am done playing professional tennis.
Nadal is not the Rubik’s Cube
With Nadal many people are looking to fit together mysterious pieces to some puzzle that does not exist.
In reality Nadal is a terse narrative without the pretentious airs or remarks the press would like; he is what he says.
The measure of Nadal’s remaining career will unfold one match at a time. There will be more spectacular wins and inevitable setbacks.
He is aging but still has a few good years of tennis left. He has a great chance to win a few more Grand Slam titles but will also experience more upsets.
Above all, Nadal will compete with courage and fire.
He always has.
Even when his body can no longer perform the way it once did, he will maximize his strength and fight to the death. If it is not enough, he will try again.
Someday we will know when Nadal is done winning Grand Slam titles. It will be the natural end to an epic career. And though there is rarely a fitting way for a legend to walk away, it is merely one more step in life, as Nadal alluded in his recent remarks.
And then we may yet hear about Nadal at age 40 winning a clay-court event in December down in South America, simply because he must compete and play on his beloved clay.
But if you’re looking for tragedy, there are plenty of other athletes who fill the bill.
Or you can always dust off an old copy of The Spanish Tragedy.