If I was a professional tennis player and has found my way into the main draw at Roland Garros, there is only one person I would want to see on the other side of the net during my first round encounter. Rafael Nadal.
First to fall into the clutches of the clay court master at the 2009 French Open was the qualifier Marcos Daniel. Having struggled to get through three rounds of qualifying, his reward was a shot at, arguably, the best player to grace a clay court.
Believe me, when I say “reward”, I mean just that. I’m not being sarcastic. Some people may believe that the one guy you don’t want to be drawn against, or even drawn in the same half with, is Nadal.
I don’t subscribe to this theory and I sincerely hope that Daniel didn’t either. In fact, I’m pretty sure he didn’t.
Daniel is a relatively unknown player, yet merely having to play Nadal brings your name to the forefront of discussions. Admittedly, those discussions usually end with something like, “So, we’re agreed, Daniel will be slaughtered by Nadal.”
Quite frankly, why would the conversation end any other way?
Nevertheless, amidst all this talk, Daniel strode out onto court with a belief that maybe, just maybe, he could pull off something special.
Daniel started the match without the burden of any kind of pressure. For him to win one game would be considered an achievement by a naïve few.
Right from the beginning, Daniel came out swinging, as did Teimuraz Gabashvili in the second round against Nadal. Alas, both plucky characters fell to the “Parisian King.”
Neither feared the challenge that had been put before them. And why should they?
If you’re a professional tennis player you want to be playing against the best. You want to challenge yourself.
Beating those ranked lower than you might be pleasing, but you know you can beat them. You don’t know if you can beat Nadal.
The challenge is one reason to be grateful for a showdown with Nadal in Paris, but the other reason is the glory.
Nadal, for those that don’t know, is unbeaten at Roland Garros. He arrived in Paris for the first time in 2005 and he hasn’t lost a match there since.
If you’re drawn against Nadal, you’re the person at that time that can end that run. I truly believe that if you can’t get excited about that prospect then it’s time find another activity to pass away the days, because tennis obviously isn’t for you.
The next person standing in the way of Nadal is Lleyton Hewitt and you can bet that he, like Daniel and Gabashvili, will throw everything at the Spaniard.
Will he win? Probably not, but he does have something everyone else should want. A shot at Nadal.