Lesser men may have packed their kilt and marched away into the shadows, after suffering a harrowing season of tennis. But Rafael Nadal is no ordinary mortal. The irrepressible Spaniard absorbed the disappointment of defeat with typical fortitude, refusing to be cowed down by the worst season of his illustrious career.
The fact that Nadal is scripting a stirring recovery on the hard courts is a tribute to his resilience and indomitable willpower. And as Novak Djokovic rules tennis with an iron fist, Nadal’s return to the height of his prowess augurs wells for men’s tennis.
Nadal has suffered a series of stinging defeats this year. Fabio Fognini, Milos Raonic and Stanislas Wawrinka have all dealt blows on the hurting Spaniard. An emboldened Dustin Brown produced a remarkable performance to oust Nadal very early at Wimbledon.
But it was Fognini who twisted the knife deeper into the flesh for Nadal. Having already tamed the raging bull in Rio and Barcelona, Fognini did a Houdini trick in New York on the man that made a career out of battling to the bitter end.
The Italian overturned a two set deficit to earn a mightily impressive 3-6, 4-6, 6-4, 6-3, 6-4 victory in the third round of the US Open. It appeared then that Nadal was sinking into a deep quagmire made slushier by a mind in turmoil.
Nadal though refused to bow down, searching for positives and defending his team with a stoic resolve. He insisted that some good tennis was round the corner, even if he was finding it difficult to find any buyers.
Just when it seemed like Nadal might ease out of the season and prepare for a fresh assault next season, he has sprung a massive surprise with a brilliant run in recent weeks.
The Spaniard has traditionally been weak toward the end of the season, having expended his energies through the European summer. But he is busy this season scripting some of the best late season results of his wealthy career.
The raging bull from Manacor has been marching through the post grand slam season with renewed vigor, devouring the very same opponents that tormented him earlier this season. In nailing down Raonic in Shanghai, the Spaniard was clearly avenging the Indian Wells loss that hurt his confidence at an important time in the season.
Nadal faced Wawrinka in the next round in Shanghai, the man who beat him in Madrid to deepen the damage he was suffering in the worst clay court season of his career. The Spaniard humiliated the Swiss for the loss of just three games.
Of course, by the time he arrived in Shanghai, Nadal had already dealt with an Italian opponent who was threatening to rent space in the head of the mighty bull. Rafa beat Fognini in a convincing effort in Beijing to underscore the fact that he was well on his way to mending the dents to his fragile confidence.
On the fast paced indoor hard courts of Basel this past week, Nadal was kept on edge as he pursued his first title on the surface since Madrid in 2005. But he came through some bruising battles against Grigor Dimitrov and Marin Cilic, underlining his growing hunger for victory.
Clearly Nadal is back to hunting with his customary ferocity and never say die spirit. On Sunday, he raised the temperature inside the St Jakobshalle stadium with some resolute tennis. Facing a near fatal break point in the sixth game of the second set against a rampant Roger Federer, Nadal found a powerful serve to remain alive.
He showed great heart in pushing the match into a third set, despite a packed stadium baying for his blood with their vocal support to the local hero. A 141kmph forehand winner at full stretch was a sight to behold, as Nadal responded with a venomous strike to a raging inside out forehand from his opponent.
Nadal may have fallen marginally short at the end, but this was a fast paced surface and the Spaniard had been struggling for confidence. After this week though, Nadal may no longer have to dwell on the vexing topic anymore.
''I lost but I was close to winning, very close,'' asserted Nadal in the aftermath of his 34th match against Federer. ''Today I have been very competitive against one of the best players in the world. And on the toughest surface for me.''
He found some answers these past few weeks and the Spaniard is clearly ready for an assault next season to regain his lost glory on the red dirt of Europe. Tennis might be struggling to unearth its next big star, but the men at the top are no pushovers.
Djokovic’s dominance will be tested next year. With Andy Murray very eager to regain a taste of grand slam metal and Federer continuing to innovate in an effort to turn the clock back, it will not be long before Nadal regains his rightful place among the big four in their insatiable hunt for decorative silver.
Updated Date: Nov 03, 2015 11:23:58 IST