The thing you have to admire about Rafael Nadal is that he wishes only to play the game of tennis, not talk about it.
He makes no pretense of being the Great Communicator like his rival, Roger Federer.
As pundits corner him and ask him to reflect upon the game and his place in it, Nadal simply shrugs and smiles, not really sure how to gauge his place in the game currently, or the past––or speculate about his place in the future of tennis.
Nadal only knows and cares about the next match.
It is a point that should be well-taken because you can only look at the history of an ongoing event when it is over, not while it is still evolving.
Scientists will tell you as much. You cannot determine the results of an experiment until it has run its course. Stopping midway and assessing its progress is a waste of effort.
Nadal is all about living in the moment. He is more action hero than philosopher or to put it more concretely, more yin than yang––more Jackie Chan than Peter O’Toole.
Life like tennis is about playing the game––not talking about it.
That is how Nadal takes to the court, too. His bent these days is aggression because he needs to win and has discovered that you only win when you move forward and play hard––not by sitting back and waiting for opponents to capitulate.
The nobility is in playing hard, every point and leaving nothing in reserve. There is only tomorrow if you win today.
The Majorcan has done much of that lately––winning. He is ranked No. 1 in the world, taking over that spot on June 21, 2010 after Roger Federer failed to make it to the semifinals of the French Open and lost his hold on the ranking.
This is the second time Nadal has succeeded Federer as the No. 1 player in the world. The first time it happened was in August of 2008 after Nadal won the French Open and Wimbledon championships––just prior to the start of the 2008 U.S.Open.
Nadal is 24 years of age and has won eight Major Finals––five French Open titles, two Wimbledon titles and one Australian Open title. But there is still a world out there to conquer, other championships to win, including the upcoming U.S. Open––the one Grand Slam Championship Nadal has never won.
In fact the Majorcan has not even made it into the finals at Arthur Ashe in Queens.
Winning in New York would give Nadal a career slam since he would hold at least one championship at each grand slam event. It is a goal Nadal aspires to achieve and winning it would put him in rare company.
It is a difficult goal because New York offers the fastest hard courts of all the majors. It remains the surface that seems to give Nadal the most trouble.
But challenge is what spurs Nadal on and makes his life complete. He focuses on what is important to him––winning the next match and making his way through the draw as far as he can.
Still the temptations to talk about Nadal’s records and his place in the game of tennis are overwhelming for the media during interviews because, there are so many firsts and high moments to talk about:
Nadal Owned Records:
(1) French Open - Nadal won five titles in six years from 2005-2010
(2) French Open - Nadal won 31 consecutive matches from 2005-2009
(3) Nadal is the only player to reach nine different ATP Masters tournament finals.
(4) Nadal remains the only player to have lost just one game in an ATP World Tour Masters 1000 final (Monte Carlo 2010: 6–0, 6–1)
(5) Nadal is the only player to win all three clay court Masters events in the same year (2010).
(6) He is only player to win 3 consecutive Masters titles, regardless of surface.
(7) He is only player to win at least three ATP World Tour Masters 1000 in a season for 4 consecutive years.
(8) Nadal owns the leading winning percentage of .833 in ATP Masters Tournaments since 1990.
(9) Nadal has the most consecutive years winning at least ONE Masters title - 6 (2005-2010)
(10) Nadal won the Monte-Carlo - Rome double for - five years (2005,2006,2007,2009,2010)
(11) Nadal holds the longest single-surface winning streak (clay): 81 matches (11 April 2005 – 20 May 2007)
(12) Nadal is the only male player to have won French Open, Wimbledon, and Olympic gold medal in the same year (2008)
(13) Nadal won the most singles titles in a single season as a teenager: 11 (2005).
(14) Nadal won 24 consecutive matches, the longest winning streak of any teenager in the open era, in 2005
(15) Nadal holds the record for the most consecutive weeks as World Number 2: 160 weeks
Nadal’s records on clay continue to grow. In 2010 he literally dominated the clay court season, winning all three Masters 1000 clay court tournaments plus the French Open. Nadal uses the clay court season to build his rankings points and bolster his confidence.
Spending at least half of 2009 injured after losing in the fourth round of the French Open and trying to keep pace on the hard courts, starting with the Australian Open in 2010, Nadal sprinted onto the clay and never looked back, sweeping aside the competition like they were Tokyo and he were Godzilla.
There was no one who could stand in his way on clay. That extended to the finals and beyond at Wimbledon––especially when Federer faded in the quarterfinals.
But this summer, on hard courts as he began to ready himself for his campaign at the 2010 U.S. Open, Nadal has not found the winning combination on his strokes. He feels a step slow in reaching the ball which makes him a micro-second slow in hitting the ball.
Nadal lost to Andy Murray in the semifinals at the Roger’s Cup in Montreal and then lost to Marcos Baghdatis in the quarterfinals at Cincinnati. He had not played at all since Wimbledon, fearing injuring or exacerbating the problem with tendinitis in his knees.
The U.S. Open is now beginning for Nadal––the only slam he has not won. The Majorcan will be focused on winning in New York, just as he always concentrates on winning. That is his mission in life, to win major titles, to win any title of any tennis event he enters.
Not to talk about his place in the history of the game. To win. That is what Nadal is all about.