I followed him with an almost manic passion—tracking each and every statistic, ordering merchandise from his foundation and devouring almost every article and tribute to him that I could lay my hands on. He is after all, as Rohit Brijnath writes, "a most imperfect man in the most splendid way."
I believed in him. And he almost never let me down. As a person, as a tennis professional, as a sportsman.
His probability of winning a calendar Grand Slam is now minute, but as the records show, he came close more than once. Perhaps not as close as Nadal. Perhaps closer. That's for you to decide.
But let me digress to immediately separate the Grand Slam and the Rafa Slam. There is a difference. Winning all four majors in the same year is different from holding all four at the same time. But only slightly. They're both transcendent ground for the most elite athlete.
They're both almost impossible to achieve.
And that's why, as I switched off the television when Nadal was 2-5 down in the first set, I already knew it was over. Had the fatigue caught up? Had the left hamstring pulled up? I wasn't sure. But I knew the dream was over. It was in his eyes. The fierce competitor in Rafael Nadal had resigned himself to his fate.
Who will win the 2011 Men's Australian Open title?
Wrong place, wrong time. A simple misalignment of the stars, and there was nothing he could do.
That's how tough four majors in a row is. You can be playing your best tennis and yet that's only part of the jigsaw. There can be no final flourish without those little ones.
There are two reasons why Rod Laver put the pieces together over forty years ago. One, he was brilliant. Two, none of the majors were played on a hard court—which in no way belittles the magnitude of his achievement. It just increases the incredulity of these near misses.
The way to go about it is this: marvel at Federer's durability, luck, stress-free game or whatever you want to call it. If he goes down in a major, it's not because of a bug.
And marvel at Nadal's glorious run that began at his favorite hunting ground. He may just choose to embark on another one.
The times, they are a-changin', and I know they're changing for the better.