Three weeks ago, after Rafael Nadal's first loss on clay in a little over a year to Novak Djokovic, some pundits felt that the defeat was a sign of the times—a poignant reminder of the fickle nature of success.
That everyone was gunning for his spot at the top of the tennis world should have come as no surprise—in fact, what was surprising was that everyone was surprised.
Apparently, Nadal is never supposed to lose on clay—well at least, that was the propaganda purported by his fanbase. Still, in their defense, they had reason for it. As at that time, Nadal had gone 32-0 on clay from 2010 without defeat, and had won every tournament he'd entered.
What fan wouldn't wax lyrical were this their player?
A bigger body blow though, came in the shape of his loss again to Djokovic in Rome a week later—Rafael Nadal, famed for never having lost two clay court finals in a row, lost with a whimper. Rafael Nadal, famed student of the game, was unable for the fourth time this year to decipher the Djokovic code. More signs of the time?
He would have been disappointed and he clearly was—losing in one's own backyard, in front of one's home crowd, is the worst of feelings. But losing in a tournament where you have been five times a defending champion surely must have been the last straw.
Nadal didn't see it this way though. In an interview conducted after the match, he said:
"I have been doing everything that I can so I cannot ask myself more. I am trying and I am doing very well, but one player is doing better than me. The champion in my opinion is not only able to win every week; it is when they are able to wait at the right moments and I am waiting at every week, trying to find solutions, and we will see what is going on next time…I wish him all the best and I have to wait my moment to win another time."
Cause for confidence?
In a recent conversation with an acquaintance, I talked extensively about tennis' current trajectory, and the influence that Novak Djokovic was having on the top players, and my friend made an interesting point.
It was something to the effect that the great players tended to have a window early in their careers where they won most of their finals—and that as they grew older, they tended to lose a lot more of the finals they were involved in.
So the question I began to ask myself was: What window is Nadal in?
And to me, this statement highlighted a growing issue in tennis wherein nowadays fans are so selfishly interested in living vicariously through their idols that they are completely disconnected with the concept of defeat.
A Renewed Mind?
Not even the best of us can stop what is coming. Defeat will come—but if one learns from defeat, one hasn't really lost.
Nadal's nine Grand Slam titles from 11 finals was a great turnover—such was the man.
The year 2009 was a hell of a year for Nadal—filled to the brim with pain as it was. 2010 though, offered some respite.
2011 like 2009 hasn't worked quite, but surely now it can be appreciated that in the current tennis environment, to win one final, a whole lot more may have to be lost.
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