Rafael Nadal...Keeping Defeat in Perspective and Pulling for Roger

Donald FincherAnalyst IJune 1, 2009

BARCELONA, SPAIN - APRIL 21:  Rafael Nadal looks on during a promotional event for Nadal's foundation on day two of the ATP 500 World Tour Barcelona Open Banco Sabadell 2009 tennis tournament at the Real Club de Tenis on April 21, 2009 in Barcelona, Spain.  (Photo by Jasper Juinen/Getty Images)

See that picture of Nadal? As a favor to his fans, I reached back to Madrid to grab a photo when he wasn't wearing the now cursed pink shirt. People always say "if I were a betting man", I'd do this or that. Well, I AM a betting man and my money is on superstitious Rafa NEVER wearing the pink again.

I just got a chance to listen to Rafa’s post-game comments with the Spanish Q & A translated into English. He made no excuses and was classy about it. He tried to downplay it but we all know how significant this was to him.

What really stood out for me was the fact that he was as laid back about it as he was. Perhaps Uncle Tony had slipped him a tranquilizer. Perhaps he had a stiff drink before going to the presser. Whatever the case, he didn’t act like the world was over or that anything all that significant had happened.

I know the Spaniards pride themselves on putting on a brave face and not showing weakness. But he really did eerily seem almost like he was a bit relieved. It’s like he knew it had to happen at some point and the weight has been lifted.  

It’s just too bad that it was to a guy that Rafa didn’t like. It would be easier for him, his fans, and the tennis world to take if it was to someone that Rafa could take some solace in losing to. In other words, when one loses, it always relieves the sting a bit if the person that was helped by your loss is someone for whom you want to see helped. Verdasco comes to mind.

I think if Rafa knew ahead of time that he was going to lose to someone on his side of the bracket and he could choose the guy, it would have been Verdasco. And the very last guy would have been Soderling. It’s too bad how fate works sometimes.

I think he will change his schedule next year. And I don’t think he will play quite as much. There are things to be learned here. And privately, he’ll consider those things with his inner circle and go forward. But he was having no part of letting the media put forth excuses such as too much playing in such a short time. I must say that I admire that.

And something else I admire is what he said about hoping Roger wins. Of course he said the expected part about wanting a Spaniard to win but he named Roger by name. If Roger wins, he becomes a calendar slam winner and ties Pete Sampras. But because Pete couldn’t win the French (and he didn’t even have to play the likes of Rafa), Roger will become known as the Greatest.

And, conventional wisdom would say that, with that monkey off of his back, he goes into Wimbledon with a full head of steam, no more Sampras burden, and lots of confidence where he will probably win. And, Roger hasn’t lost the US Open in five years. He could even gain the No. 1 ranking back.

So if Roger wins, it puts him on a trajectory that will make it most difficult to ever catch him (which we know the competitive side of Rafa wants to do). To complicate that matter for Rafa, in order to have a chance to catch Roger, Rafa needed to be able to count on another two or three French Open titles which he now knows cannot be seen as a given as much as they were seen that way before yesterday. So, to know that a Roger win likely means he’ll never catch up to Roger and, in spite of that, Rafa still says he wants Roger to win and that Roger deserves it, I have to assume that he really does mean it.

And that may be the classiest thing of all that he did today…to show that even in what must be one of his darkest hours, he’s can still be thinking of someone besides himself and wishing someone else good fortune. From this Roger fan, all I can say is…well done Rafa. I respected you before and my respect has grown.