Rafael Nadal: Never Say Die!!!

Poulomee BasuCorrespondent IMay 16, 2009

MADRID, SPAIN - MAY 16:  Rafael Nadal of Spain celebrates on his knees after match point against Novak Djokovic of Serbia in their semi-final during the Madrid Open tennis tournament at the Caja Magica on May 16, 2009 in Madrid, Spain.  (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)


That’s the question which begs some answers.

In a nerve-wracking display of absolutely superb tennis, Novak Djokovic came second best to Rafael Nadal at the semi-finals in Madrid. Yet again.

But strange as it may sound, this time around it was Novak who deserved the victory. Not only did he play consistently aggressive tennis for over four hours; he matched Nadal’s mental toughness with a rare tenacity.

Gone was the Novak of the old who was plagued with accusations of complacency. Today’s Novak played every bit like the champion he always claims to be.

He had everything going for him in this match but yet again, it was a matter of so close yet so far. 

Rafa had been looking a little off colour throughout the tournament.  He was unsure about playing in Madrid and he didn’t leave his uncertainty behind when he came on court today.

In the first set, he was barely playing up to 50% of his capacity. The serve, the forehand, the backhand, the on court movement; everything was conspiring against him.

And the unforced errors were piling up. Perhaps it was a good thing that Djokovic put him out of his misery fairly quickly winning the set at 6-3.

I don’t know about everyone else, but whenever Rafa loses the first set I always think its going to be a three setter match. You just KNOW he is the immovable object, who won’t budge or buckle.  If Novak was to beat him, he would have to do it, Rafa wasn’t going to help in anyway.

In quintessential Rafa style, he started to turn it around from the 10th game in the second set. And then he won a fairly comfortable tie breaker.

A scintillating third set followed and in a huge improvement from the last two weeks, the match remained competitive for the whole duration—all the four hours! There was no fading of Novak like I expected.

And what’s more the third set tiebreak was as nail biting an affair as I had ever seen. It had quit being a tennis match. It was a battle of blood, guts, sweat and endurance.

Although I m running out of superlatives for Nadal, I'm going to attempt this—how much heart did Rafa show out there today? He didn’t need to win another clay court masters title. He didn’t need to even show up. He had nothing to prove. After he had an injury scare in the second set, he didn’t need to finish the match and risk an aggravated injury so close to the Roland Garros. 

And what did he do? Played like his life depended on it. Even after the first set when everyone sat shaking their heads in disbelief, he never stopped believing in himself. He had every possible problem a tennis player could have out there, but he simply never gave up.

Even though Rafa has displayed tremendous mental strength time and again, I am left spellbound every time he gets involved in such gladiatorial battles. This year, we have already seen him involved in four such matches—against Verdasco and Federer in Australia and against Djokovic in Rome and Madrid.

And what do we think every single time? “He cannot possible make that shot.” “ He cannot possible be fit for the next game.” “He cannot possibly get back into the game now.” 

And evertyime we have been proved wrong. Rafael Nadal can. For the simple reason that he doesn’t believe that he will lose.

Make no mistake, with all my Nadal praise, I m taking nothing away from Novak Djokovic. Even though he might have been on the losing end, his progress on the surface has been nothing short of phenomenal. 

To match Rafa physically and mentally for nearly four hours is nothing short of a mini victory for Novak, and certainly one that he should savour. There were no retirements or excuses this time around—just pure tennis.

A fearless performance like this right before the Roland Garros ought to do wonders for his confidence. Although I am sure he will be troubled with doubts about what does he have to do to actually WIN against Rafa on clay?

Maybe he has to try a couple of more times to finally understand how. But one thing is certain, he is much farther along to unlocking the mystery than anyone else.