Rafael Nadal: Only in Defeat Do We Witness His True Beauty

Michael LanichCorrespondent IJune 4, 2009

PARIS - MAY 31:  Defeated champion Rafael Nadal of Spain walks off court following his defeat during the Men's Singles Fourth Round match against Robin Soderling of Sweden on day eight of the French Open at Roland Garros on May 31, 2009 in Paris, France.  (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

“Defeats never make you grow, but you also realise how difficult what I achieved up until today was, and this is something you need sometimes. You need a defeat to give the value to your victories.”—Rafael Nadal

I am not a great athlete.  Oh, I am not a terrible one either, but the word "elite" will never be mentioned when someone speaks about me.  I will probably never hit a home run, a 100 mph ace, or run a sub 4.4 40-meter dash. 

In short, when it comes to athletics, I will never be at the top.

Because of this, the adulation, exaltation, and fantastical feeling of being at the pinnacle of a sport and winning its highest honors will most likely never be mine.

At the same time, I will never have to experience the pure lows that come with defeat. The unbridled agony, the second guessing, and worst, the knowledge that had a moment here or there been different, I would be the winner.

It is with these thoughts that I cheer for Rafael Nadal and now respect him even more than ever before.


Because so few athletes show the face and thoughts he revealed to the writers and collective souls who gathered in utter disbelief to hear why he lost.  The acceptance, and philosophical understanding have shown us again and again, how rare a tennis player and a person he is.

I have no doubt that shortly after exiting the courts of Phillipe Chatrier, after his defeat to Robin Soderling, that tears came large and plentiful. 

But while others would have spent hours, days, and maybe even weeks in spontaneous fits of white hot anger at their inability to win the big points, Nadal has a different take.

The above quote, which I think will go down as one of the great quotes of an athlete, especially in defeat, gives us a quick peek into how Rafa's mind works.

Only in defeat can you give value to your victories.  It's a startling, and beautiful statement. 

Most players of any sport are sullen, and lost after a big defeat. Like the attack of some flu bug, they are worn out in every way and seem barely able to make it through their exit press conference.  It's nice to see someone look at things in a more positive light.

I think, at times, that we can all get so caught up in winning, that we lose sight of what those wins really mean.  Sometimes it takes a loss, and a hard one for you to look at what you have accomplished and be thankful.

Rafa's view has always been that tennis and winning are not the most important things in the world to him. That there are far more important things like family and the enjoyment of life's experiences is a rare thing to hear from most people, least of all a 23-year-old man.

His subtle, and philosophical take on his loss, show why he can simply look to the next event and forget his losses.  His loss, while not meaningless, is not important anymore.  Only his next challenge.  It burns bright, but only to shine light on the greatness of his victories, and to ultimately show the meaning of victory again.

There is a long way to go in the current tennis season, but it will be the first time Nadal has tasted the bitterness of defeat before hitting grass in a long time. Rafa realizes that despite his loss, he has had a great year so far, and that there are two other slams to win. All is not lost.

Next year, Nadal will be hungry to win the French again. I expect an attack of epic proportions on Roland Garros next year by the Spaniard, and something tells me he's already planning his assault.