Rewind the clock back ten years. Rafael Nadal, one of Spain’s proudest sons, suffered from a serious knee injury. Such was its nature that it had forced his doctor into advising him to abandon tennis as a career as he felt that the condition of his knee was as such that it could not cope with the rigorous physical demands of the game.
And here he is today, one of the finest, greatest and best tennis athlete the game has ever seen, gearing up to lift his tenth Roland Garros title. His doctor’s assessment ten years ago will now only be cited as one of all the odds that Nadal has fought over the years, how he has risen from the ashes and why he is a man whose prospects of winning can never be ruled out.
Nadal has experienced multiple setbacks and injuries in his career. Back in 2009 following his lone French Open loss to Robin Soderling in the fourth round, he was forced to withdraw from Wimbledon due to fitness issues.
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The Spaniard then found it hard to rediscover his form and confidence on his return, getting whacked by eventual champion Juan Martin Del Potro in the US Open semi-finals and lost all three of his round-robin matches in the World Tour Finals.
A couple of months later, another huge blow struck him as he was force to retire from his quarterfinal match against Andy Murray in the third set due to an injury. And out came the verdict from scores of tennis pundits, fans and followers: Nadal is done and dusted, and that the Mallorca native will never again rise to the game’s top with some even anticipating a retirement press conference to soon air on television channels.
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That was the start of the year 2010. What happens next? Nadal goes on to experience arguably the best season of his life. He sweeps the European Clay swing bagging all three Masters titles on the red dirt to become the first player in history to achieve the feat.
He then capped it with his fifth French Open crown, accomplishing it in a ruthless manner, not dropping a single set en-route to the title.
Nadal went on to lift his maiden US Open trophy the same year and finished runner to Federer in the World Tour Finals.
2011 is the year when the whirlwind emergence of Novak Djokovic as tennis’ new powerhouse forced Nadal and Federer into taking the back seat. Nadal suffered seven successive losses to the Serb, one a heartbreaking five-set defeat in Australian Open final of 2012.
A new judgment was now passed, that Djokovic was Nadal’s nemesis and that Nadal’s days of bullying his rivals was now over. What follows then? Nadal dispatches his ‘nemesis’ in three successive clay court battles, one in the final of the French Open.
Emergence of another injury kept Nadal out from competing in the US Open that year and the Australian Open of 2013. Not having learnt their lesson, many once again dished out their end-of-Nadal assessments and went as far as declaring Djokovic as Nadal’s successor in the French Open.
And the stage was set. Djokovic and Nadal took each other on in the semi-final of Roland Garros in 2013. The stakes could not have been higher for both the players. Everyone waited with baited breath as the two dueled for hours, not giving an inch to the other person.
Alas, a loss of balance from Djokovic at the net when he had put away an overhead smash to lose the point at a crucial juncture in the contest handed the initiative to Nadal. The Spaniard recorded a historic win and went on to secure his eighth French Open title.
US Open triumph against the same opponent months later silenced Nadal’s naysayers, yet again. Nadal finished the year as the number one player.
And of course, who can forget what happened last year. Djokovic’s win over Nadal in the Rome final coupled with Nadal’s poor run-in to the French Open had once again put the spot light on Djokovic and the Serb’s prospects of dethroning Nadal in Paris.
For a moment it appeared on the cards too as Djokovic took the first set of the title showdown. However, he was blown away in the next three sets in the face of Nadal’s stern defense, a belligerent forehand and impenetrable baseline game.
Djokovic wore a look of a man mentally drained and resigned in acknowledgement of his opponent’s sheer superiority in closing stages of the battle.
Another forecast gone horribly wrong for the analyst and another moment of Nadal emerging out of the dark. It first happened when he had one slam to his name and this time when he had tied with Pete Sampras on list of total majors won at 14. Some people just never learn.
Now here we are again with a Djokovic in sublime form, like he has been for the last couple of years, and a Nadal who appears to be at his most vulnerable. The French Open is just a couple of weeks away.
The question is, have all of us learnt our lesson from history or we still choose to get misguided from a fake perception of Nadal being a spent force and predict a Djokovic win. As a famous saying goes “those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it”. Expect Nadal to rebound and silence his critics. Again!