RAFA!

It finally happened.  I believed he could do it.  He believed he could do it.  But the latter was the only one that mattered.  Rafael Nadal did more than just win the 2008 Wimbledon Championship yesterday, and although I would have loved seeing Marat Safin defeat Roger Federer in the semis on Friday, Rafa finally winning a grand slam championship on grass and against Federer turned out to be even sweeter.  I kind of felt yesterday the way I felt when the Colts finally beat the Patriots in Foxborough.  In celebration of Rafa’s triumph, I’ve put together a top ten list.

TOP TEN REASONS I’M HAPPY ABOUT RAFA’S WIMBLEDON WIN AND YOU SHOULD BE, TOO:

  1. Roger Federer is a pompous jerk.  In Sunday’s Washington Post, when asked about his less than perfect play in earlier tournaments this year, Roger Federer responded by saying, “I’m on an incredible winning streak on grass.  First, somebody has to be able to break that, you know, before we start talking differently.”  To me, this is just more evidence of the arrogance that Roger Federer typically espouses.  I realize he’s partly stating fact, but he didn’t have to practically say he’s unbeatable. 
  2. Roger Federer has had a four and a half year long strong hold on the men’s singles #1 ranking.  That puts him in the category of “we’re just plain sick of seeing you dominate the sport.  Give someone else a chance, you big bully.”  That four years coupled with his winning of the last five Wimbledon championships is enough to pull for any of his opponents even when it’s not sweet Rafa.
  3. Rafa’s reaction to the win was priceless.  Rafa may be one of the most humble athletes around.  Sure he’s excited when he wins, and he displays that in ways that are really fun to watch like yesterday when he dropped his racket and collapsed to the ground, spread eagle with exhaustion and disbelief that he’d actually held on long enough to win Wimbledon.       

    And after all his time of competing with Roger, I wondered how much was excitement over winning and how much was excitement over defeating Roger on grass.  When asked about defeating Roger, Rafa said simply, “He’s still number one.  He’s still the best. He’s still [a] five-time champion here. Right now, I have only one.”  Even during his post match press conference, Rafa said that while he was elated to win, he was sad for Roger because if anyone knows what it is like to come in second at Wimbledon after playing your heart out, it’s Rafa.  After the trophy presentation and about a million pictures, Rafa gathered his belongings to exit the court, but an usher came over to tell him that one of the Wimbledon staff would be carrying his bags off the court for him.  He just needed to carry the trophy.  I wouldn’t be surprised if he slept with that trophy last night considering the way he cradled it ever so tightly to his chest.  Even after that, rather than going straight to the locker room and his awaiting press conference, he stepped outside to sign autographs to about a dozen fans.  I kind of think he didn’t know what to do with himself.
  4. He just won the biggest championship in tennis and all he wanted was a hug.  Instead of sitting on the sidelines awaiting the trophy presentation or thanking the crowd following the match (which he did a little later), Rafa climbed up to his family’s box in the stands to hug his mom, dad, and uncle/coach Toni. 
     

    His uncle has been his coach since Toni introduced Rafa to the sport at age three.  In this sport where players seem to change coaches as often as they change socks, I have to commend Rafa for sticking with the person that got him where he is now.  Rafa was born and raised on the Spanish island of Majorca.  And though he’s 22 years old and has earned nearly $20 million in prize money over his career, he still lives at home with his family.  It is his family that has kept him grounded, has kept him humble, has kept his focus on being the best tennis player he can be (after his schoolwork was completed).  Plus, he’s been able to accomplish something that no one in Hollywood seems to be able to do: he’s had a girlfriend for the last three years that no one knew about until recent photos of them swimming together in Majorca were published.
  5. The boy is a beast.  The Washington Post describes Rafa as “a left-handed slugger, who punishes the ball like a heavyweight boxer.”  He is incredibly muscular, sporting, in my opinion, the best arms in all of tennis. 

    I enjoy watching tennis, but I enjoy it more when the players move into the net.  Rafa likes to play this aggressive style and provides more action than say the Roger Federer’s who hate moving away from the baseline.
  6. His name is now mentioned in the same breath with Bjorn Borg.  No matter who won yesterday, Bjorn Borg was going to be part of the story.  Had Roger won he would have taken sole ownership of the record for consecutive Wimbledon championships at six and be only one championship behind Pete Sampras’s non-consecutive total of 7.  However, since Rafa won, Borg and Rafa become the only two men in the Open Era to win both the French Open and Wimbledon in the same year. 
  7. He didn’t let tennis buy and sell him. Rafa was well on his way to the masterful player we see today by the age of 12.  When Rafa was 14, the Spanish tennis federation wanted him to leave home and train in Barcelona.  But his parents and uncles, worried about his education suffering, turned them down, which meant losing financial support from the federation.  Instead, his father paid for his training. Some claim that the decision to stay at home was crucial to his development into the player he is today because he took his training much more seriously playing at least twice a day and competing regularly.  As a result, he was ranked in the top 50 worldwide by the age of 16.
  8. He cleans up rather nicely.  Now, personally, if there ever was a 22 year old that at my age I was allowed to think was HOT, it would be Rafa.  Even when he’s playing and he’s all sweaty, which is not a turn on for me, he’s still downright adorable.  However, Sunday night, Rafa attended the Champions Dinner in a tuxedo.

    He may have long hair, but don’t let the long hair fool you.  Long hair DOES NOT equate to delinquency.  He’s a very intelligent, normal kid who just happens to play doggone good tennis.  Over the last couple years, tennis fans have watched as his grasp of the English language has developed.  He still says, “no,” at the end of most of his statements, but that to me is a great testament to who he is.  He may learn our language, but he’s still going to be Majorca’s golden boy.
  9. He never stopped believing he could win.  No matter how many of us said, “I think this is Rafa’s year,” or “I think Rafa can beat Roger,” we all still had our little doubts in the back of our mind because there’s always some part of us that says, “but, it’s Roger Federer.  He will not go quietly.”  I’m as guilty of it as the next guy.  When the first rain delay hit, I was certain that it would give Roger a chance to regroup and come back from his two-set deficit, and I was right.  I was thankful for the second rain delay because I thought at that point Rafa needed it more.  When the daylight was fading into the dusk and darkness, I didn’t think they’d get to finish the match.  And I truly believed that if they had to come back on Monday, Rafa wouldn’t be able to pull it out.  But Rafa never really showed any doubts.  He never seemed to be shaken by Roger holding serve and winning two tiebreaks.  He just kept going as if to say, “no matter what it takes, no matter how long I have to be out here, I am going to win this match.”  Psychology in sports is more than half the battle, and Rafa won that one easily Sunday night in the longest match in Wimbledon Championship history.  Rafa’s critics believed that winning on grass for him was still years away, but four hours and fourty-eight minutes of playing time later (with two rain delays and nearly 8 hours from when the broadcast actually started), he proved them wrong.
  10. He was proud to make his country proud.  It has been 42 years since a Spaniard won the Wimbledon Championship.  Manolo Santana beat sixth seeded R.D. Ralston in three sets in the 1966 Wimbledon Championship, and until Sunday night, the well had been dry.  “It’s impossible to describe,” said Nadal. “It’s a dream. When I was a kid I dreamed of playing here. But to win here? For any player — but for the Spanish especially — it is a dream.”  After he climbed into his family’s box for that hug, he walked across the roof of a media box to Spain’s royal box to shake the hands of Prince Felipe and Princess Letizia.

    They greeted him with open arms just like he was their own flesh and blood.  After 42 years, I’d say that’s not far from the truth.

Many of the commentators and analysts have pronounced Sunday night’s match as the best display of tennis competition they’ve ever seen.  I can’t argue with that, especially if it means getting to see Rafa finally mow over his grass demons.

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About Leann

Lazy Pancreas Owner. TV/Movie/Theatre Junkie. Sports Fanatic. Peyton Manning Expert. Alabama Graduate. Car Karaoke Performer. Believer In Love. Come along for the ride.

Posted on July 2008, in General and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. What an epic five set match by the two titans of tennis. My eyes were glued to this marathon for 4 hours and 48 minutes! This was the greatest and perhaps the best quality tennis I have ever witnessed in any tournament. Congrats to Nadal for taking down the great Federer.

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