Resurrection 2017: Rafael Nadal proves once again why he is one of the greatest athletes tennis has ever seen

Published: November 9, 2017
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Rafael Nadal saves two match points to beat Lucas Pouille in Beijing on October 3, 2017. PHOTO: ATP

As far as tennis goes, my allegiance has always been with Rafael Nadal (Rafa). While many are in awe of the brilliant Roger Federer, I have always been inspired by the sheer grit, determination and hard work of the Spaniard.

Majority of the tennis fraternity had written Nadal off after a wrist injury brought an untimely end to the season in 2016. This, along with the longstanding knee issues that have plagued him for most of his career, made it seem as if the illustrious career for the Mallorcan was drawing to a close – but Nadal had other ideas. Come 2017, he reminded us once again why he is one of the greatest athletes the sport has ever seen.

Spain’s Rafael Nadal celebrates after winning his semifinal tennis match against Austria’s Dominic Thiem at the Roland Garros, June 9, 2017. Photo: AFP

The 31-year-old began the year ranked world number nine with little chance of lifting any major grand slam titles. Considering the physical nature of his game, expecting Nadal to be at his best at this point in this career is asking for a little too much. Nonetheless, the Spaniard stunned everyone by winning six titles, including both the French Open and the US Open, while also featuring in three out of the four grand slam finals.

Can’t ask for more, can you?

French Open – Spain’s Rafael Nadal celebrates with the trophy after winning the final against Switzerland’s Stan Wawrinka, June 11, 2017. Photo: Reuters

Having already ended the season as the world number one three times before (2008, 2010 and 2013), in 2017, Nadal became the oldest player to once again rank as the top player in the world. Bearing in mind the background of this achievement, the occasion must have felt much more special than before.

“I’m very, very happy for everything,” Nadal told Sky Sports. “It has been an amazing year. One year ago, for sure I never dreamed about being world number one again at the end of the season. It’s something that means a lot to me, but the season is not over.”

Four of these titles during the year came on the clay court, which also included his 10th French Open title, the La Decima. Nadal is known as ‘the King of Clay’ and his success on clay is hardly surprising whenever he is able to conjure up some kind of form.

If you thought that clay was the only court where he triumphed, then unfortunately, you are wrong. Later in the season, Nadal went on to claim two titles on hard court which included the prestigious US Open. While hard courts are usually a taxing experience for the current world number one, he hardly missed a beat in the lead-up to his third US Open title in front of a packed house at the Arthur Ashe.

US Open – Mens Final – Rafael Nadal of Spain celebrates his win against Kevin Anderson of South Africa, September 10, 2017. Photo: Reuters

A major reason behind Nadal’s success this year has been the adjustments and improvements he has made to his game to counter his rivals. Whether it is standing further away from the baseline to return the serve better, improving his backhand or using his already threatening forehand to more devastating effect, Nadal has made his style of play more compact. When he absolutely nails them, his forehand winners down the line are simply soul-stealing!

Rafael Nadal hits a backhand. Photo: Getty

Despite being fit for a large part of the year, it must be frustrating for the Spaniard to see his knee issues resurface once again. He withdrew from the Paris Masters due to the injury and now casts a doubt for the showpiece tournament, ATP World Tour Finals, to end the year.

The tour finals would have presented yet another opportunity for the fans to witness a potential Federer-Nadal match. The rivalry between Federer and Nadal has produced some captivating contests in the past and there is always something to look forward to when these two greats lock horns.

Rafael Nadal of Spain (R) is embraced by Roger Federer of Switzerland after defeating him in their finals match at the Wimbledon tennis championships in London, Britain, July 6, 2008. Photo: Reuters

Talking about their epic rivalry, now would be a good time to look back at the Wimbledon final in 2008, which is termed as the ‘greatest match in the history of tennis’.

I’m sure watching that roller coaster ride once again would have been a spine-tingling experience.

Back to present day, while Nadal holds edge over the 19-time Grand Slam champion on a head to head basis, this year, the Swiss player has been too hot to handle for Nadal. Federer has won all four battles against his opponent, but although he has had the upper hand in 2017, you can rest assured that Nadal would be keen to stamp his authority over the Swiss maestro, hopefully by overpowering him at the O2 Arena in London.

Shanghai Masters tennis tournament – Finals – Rafael Nadal of Spain reacts during the match against Roger Federer of Switzerland, October 15, 2017. Photo: Reuters

Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray and Stan Wawrinka have already been side-lined from the ATP World Tour finals due to injury and a potential ousting of Nadal would create a major headache for the organisers in terms of crowd attraction and game quality. I have my fingers crossed that Nadal makes it to the tournament but it is increasingly unlikely to happen.

No matter what happens in the future, it takes nothing away from the fact that Nadal has been in impervious form throughout the year. He always backs himself to the hilt which, coupled with his terrier-like tenacity, makes him a lethal player on the court.

Spain’s Rafael Nadal celebrates after victory on German Alexander Zverev after their match at the Monte-Carlo ATP Masters Series tennis tournament, April 20, 2017 in Monaco. Photo: AFP

When many thought he was done, Nadal roared back in emphatic fashion in 2017 to ensure that the tennis world was aware of the fact that he still has a lot to offer and his passion for the game has not dwindled.

Vamos Rafa!

Muneeb Farrukh

Muneeb Farrukh

The author is a freelance sportswriter based in Karachi. He tweets as @Muneeb313_ (twitter.com/Muneeb313_)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Masud Alam

    Even though Rafa is #1 and has that athletic edge, the game of Tennis needs that hidden flair and Roger has it ,Recommend

  • Saud Umar Khan

    might not have the natural talent of #RogerFederer but #RafaelNadal is the hardest working guy on the circuit.Recommend