Nadal (also 17 at the time) played with the maturity of a 10-year veteran and the intensity characteristic of the final at Wimbledon.
I will never forget my reaction to this spectacle.
I leaned over, nudged my mom on the shoulder, and said in a muffled, awe-stricken tone, “Watch this kid very closely. He is going to be great.”
Nadal, now 24 years old, owns eight major titles, 18 World Tour Masters 1000 titles (the most in professional tennis history), and is one US Open title away from achieving the coveted “Grand Slam.”
Just to give you a little perspective, at 24 Nadal has already passed John McEnroe on the all-time major titles list and is now tied with such greats as Andre Agassi, Ivan Lendl, and Jimmy Connors.
Just how far can this kid from Mallorca go? The answer is about as unknown as where LeBron is going to end up in a few days.
That being said, what is a known fact about Nadal is the poise and class that he has maintained while achieving such ridiculous success at a young age.
While Tiger was busy running around doing God knows what, and Big Ben was inappropriately fraternizing in bars with girls of a questionable age, Nadal spent the better part of last year sitting on the sidelines with chronic knee problems and unsuccessfully attempting to reconcile his parents’ separation.
How he responded to this low point in his career and personal life proved to be the real measure of the man.
In 2010, Nadal has fought off injuries while cruising through the clay court season and now dominating on the grass. Who’s to say that his momentum won’t carry over to the hard court season and deliver him his first US Open, career Grand Slam, and true place in history as one of the all time greats?
Let’s just say I wouldn’t bet my money against him.
I think the lesson to be learned here is that there is truth in the old adage, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” Nadal has shown us all how real men respond to adversity.
After a 2009 season that convinced many that his body had broken down and that his tight-knit family’s separation had done irreparable damage to his confidence, Nadal stormed back by doing what he has always done, beating opponents with sheer strength and will.
We can only hope that Nadal’s knees continue to mend, but until then, I just want to say thanks, Rafa, for proving that a little class truly does go a long way.