Rafael Nadal is the current world number one. He has won nine Grand Slam titles and at 24, is the youngest in the Open Era to complete the career slam. In fact, he has completed the career golden slam.
He has achieved the European double twice. He has won three consecutive Grand Slam titles this year and could make history by making it four in a row if he wins the Australian Open 2011. He is undoubtedly the Tennis Phenomenon of this era. But what is more remarkable is that this extraordinary tennis genius is also the modest well-mannered young man from Mallorca.
While on court, he is a fierce competitor but he has never smashed any rackets or hurled abuses at the linespeople or the umpires. Off-court, he is a shy and humble young man. He lives with his parents in Mallorca and he will tell you that he loves his mother, his sister and his girlfriend. A perfect role model for the new generation.
If the media people ask him if he is the greatest claycourter, he will remind them that that title belongs to Bjorn Borg. You point to his amazing haul of Grand Slam titles by age 24 and his remarkable h2h record against Roger Federer and try to proclaim him as the greatest. He vehemently denies the appellation.
He tells you that Roger Federer is the greatest and that you know nothing about tennis. He asks the rhetorical question, "You see the titles of him and you see the titles of me?"
He does not tell you that he is going to surpass Roger someday. Oh no, he humbly tells you, "The titles say he is much better than me and that's the truth at the moment. I think that will be true all my life."
So amazing is this modesty in an age of self-centred arrogant superstars that some are tempted to consider it a facade. Is he too good to be true?
I am inclined to believe that with this young man, what you see is what you get. We know that very often super achievers fail to identify with the larger than life image the world has of them. Many newly crowned CEOs of companies and heads of governments have confessed to feeling like imposters when treated like royalty.
Again ,there is this interesting fact about the brain which science has learnt: though generally action follows feeling, equally feeling follows action.You laugh when you feel happy. But suppose you were not feeling happy, but you still decided to laugh.Your brain, because of strong learned patterns, would interpret this as happiness and trigger all the accompanying responses. So you would end up feeling happy!
If Rafael is constantly telling everybody that he is a long way off from greatness, it is evident that his brain would give him all the feeling of a humble tennis star still a long way off from the pinnacle of greatness.
His humility, I am sure, is the secret of his ever present drive to improve, the drive which is behind his motto, "I go to practice every day not to practice; I go to practice every day to try to learn something and to keep improving my level."
I am reminded of these lines from Alexander Pope's poem "On a certain Lady at Court."
'Has she no faults then (Envy says), Sir?'
Yes, she has one, I must aver:
When all the world conspires to praise her,
The woman's deaf, and does not hear.
When all the world conspires to praise him, Rafael Nadal is deaf and does not hear. He focuses on doing what he does best, learning and winning.
I am certain that the day Rafael Nadal hears this praise, that would be the day when the last chapter would be written in his book of greatness.