Why Rafael Nadal is the nicest tough guy in tennis
So while we congratulate Wawrinka for a wonderful triumph, let's not forget Nadal, the gracious loser. He deserves the cheers too.
Yes, Rafael Nadal lost to Stanislas Wawrinka in the final of the Australian Open on Sunday. Yes, he was booed by the crowd as he made his way back onto the court after an injury timeout. And yes, he was almost in tears by the time he walked off the court.
But there is no mistake: Nadal is the nicest tough guy in tennis. He would wade through fire if he had to, his marathon matches with Novak Djokovic are the stuff of legend but it is perhaps, his mental toughness that is his greatest asset.
Even before the start of the final, Nadal -- already struggling with a blister in his left-hand -- felt his back tighten up.
"The back, since the beginning I felt a little bit, from the warmup. It was a little bit worst in the first set. End of the first set, I start to feel worst," said Nadal. "Then at the beginning of the second was the key moment that I felt, during a serve in a bad movement, is very stiff, very bad."
Wawrinka was pissed during the medical time out. The chair umpire Carlos Ramos refused to tell the Swiss no.8 seed what was wrong with Nadal and this led to the referee being called out on court -- then the truth was revealed: Nadal was dealing with a back injury.
It severely restricted him especially during his service games... in the first set, the left-hander was serving at around 180 km/h, in the second set that dropped to 140 km/h. He was just about managing to get the ball over the net, his mobility was also restricted and Wawrinka was moving him from side to side. Many times, he simply bent over in pain.
But Nadal wasn't even thinking about retirement. He could have -- like his opponent Bernard Tomic in the first round, walked away and thought about the season ahead. Instead, he chose to play on. Not just for himself but for all those who had turned up to watch as well.
"Last thing that I wanted to do was retirement. No, I hate to do that, especially in a final. Same time, is tough to see yourself during the whole year you are working for a moment like this, and arrives the moment and you feel that you are not able to play at your best," said Nadal.
"So was not an easy situation for me to be on court like this, but I tried hard until the end, trying to finish the match as good as I can for the crowd, for the opponent, for me. So that's what I did: tried everything until the last moment, but was impossible to win this way. Opponent is too good."
The crowd that jeered and booed him after the injury time out in the second set -- started cheering for him a set later. It is a reputation he has built over the years -- he is relentless, he beats the top players (Djokovic 22 times, Federer 23 times), he breaks down the games of opponents with ruthless precision, he chases down each ball like it is the last... in every match regardless of whether it is the first round or the final.
Yet, at the end of it, he leaves all the animosity on the court. It's almost as if he morphs into a different individual.
"Sometimes is tough for the crowd to understand. The crowd, only thing wants to do is enjoy great match. They paid ticket to watch the best match possible, and I was not able to offer that to them for moments," Nadal added.
"I wanted to try my best until the end. But I can understand very well the reaction. They understand later that I was bad. I was trying all what I can try on the court with that situation. The crowd was great with me during both weeks. Support has been enormous, more than ever. I feel very, very proud about they treat, how the crowd is supporting me here."
"You never will hear me talk badly about the crowd here."
And probably you will never hear the crowd talk badly of him either. The Federer fans might but even they grudgingly respect Nadal. Rafa has retired in a Major before -- in 2010 when a knee injury forced him stop playing the match against Andy Murray.
But if there is any chance of staying on court, you can count on the Spaniard to do it. That is why he is tough and that is also why he is nice. So while we congratulate Wawrinka for a wonderful triumph, let's not forget Nadal, the gracious loser. He deserves the cheers too.
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