Rafael Nadal: Still Climbing The Mountain Called Respect

Michael LanichCorrespondent IApril 23, 2009

LONDON - JULY 06:  Rafael Nadal of Spain celebrates winning match point and the Championship during the men's singles Final match against Roger Federer of Switzerland on day thirteen of the Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Championships at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club on July 6, 2008 in London, England.  (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)

"Respect commands itself and it can neither be given nor withheld when it is due." - Eldridge Cleaver

At every point of Rafael Nadal's great career, he has had a roadblock. On the court it has been Roger, but when it comes to getting the admiration and respect from long-time critics and the masses, it is a different story. Though some like Bud Collins and a few others rave about his evolving greatness, others still scoff.

"He's a dirtballer!", "Oh, he got lucky getting to the 2006 Wimbledon final.", "And the 2007 Wimbledon final too.", "He will NEVER win a hard court major.", "His reign as number 1 will be very very short." And on it goes.

Meanwhile, the mantle of greatness and genius was practically draped over Roger Federer by the time he reached number one. With his grace and "traditional game", many were saying Pete who? The same cannot be said for Rafael Nadal however. Sure, fans and some analysts will exclaim, but the whole tennis community simply is unsure of whether or not to really and truly embrace him.

Because Rafa's form on the court is not "the norm", they hold it against him.  To those who matter, his forehand is "ugly" even if it is just as devastating as Roger's holy forehand.  But rather than appreciating his form and forehand for their uniqueness, they rail against it.

With Rafa, there always seem to be "buts", as though people are racking their brains trying to come up with something to show he's not great and that the 10 slam plateau, which I term the Legends Plateau, where the very best players live, is coming quickly.

It's not enough that his stay at number two lasted almost three years, and that anyone besides "The Swiss Maestro" at the top, would have succumbed to the pressure, and fallen to Nadal.

I guess when your nemesis is Roger Federer, his career shadow and popularity make it hard to overcome. Rafael Nadal though, seems in many ways, like the Rodney Dangerfield of tennis. Very popular with the la men folk, and some major critics but the academy ever so slightly does just enough to sidestep admitting his greatness, or giving him an award.

I am awaiting the day, which will be much sooner than some think, when Rafael Nadal will be a double digit grand slam winner. Hopefully by then his style, grit, determination, and demeanor will garner him the accolades from throughout the tennis community much like Roger Federer has, received even if it's grudgingly given. I'll take grudgingly, and I think Rafa would too if he really wanted it.

"Would that there were an award for people who come to understand the concept of enough. Good enough. Successful enough. Thin enough. Rich enough. Socially responsible enough. When you have self-respect, you have enough.” - Gail Sheehy

One of the great things about Rafael Nadal is that while he is gracious in being complimented, his respect for himself is more important that awards, accolades and hyperbole.

He has said on multiple occasions that while tennis and winning are important to him, they are not the most important thing in the world. His family, and his self-respect are.  I think we could all learn and apply that in our own lives.