Friday, June 8, 2012
How is it possible that Spain, a country of a mere 46 million people, has 6 tennis players among the top 25 in the world, including one with 10 Grand Slam championships, and the United States, a country of 313 million, has two players in the top 25, neither of whom has ever come even close to being a serious contender at a major tennis tournament?
I have thought about this for a while and done some research on the subject, and it seems it mostly comes down to one thing: the Spanish tennis players, to a man, all work on their game 7 days a week, 52 weeks a year. They are obsessed with tennis to a level that very few people are obsessed with anything - possibly to a level which might be described as a psychological disorder if it were related to an activity which was not so highly regarded. They are sick.
Marcel Granollers, Feliciano Lopez, Fernando Verdasco, Nicolas Almagro, The Great David Ferrer, and Raphael Nadal, who is not just one of the great players of his era, but one of the top 5 finest tennis players to ever take the court, share this singular obsession. Ferrer tells a story of how his coach felt that he was slacking off once while training as a young player - maybe not even 15 years old - and locked him in a pitch black ball locker for hours to think about his transgression against this obessive mentality. The lesson stuck. At 30 years old, a senior citizen in the tennis world, Ferrer just dispatched world #4 Andy Murray in a couple of hours at Rolland Garros. It took 4 sets, but the 3rd and 4th set (6-3, 6-2) werent even close.
Nadal has an ability to continually surprise and amaze you, even though you know you are watching one of the all time greats. It seems he has to work harder for his achievements than players like Federer and Djokivich, who have a certain effortlessness about their play. They serve faster, they hit the ball harder, and have a grace and beauty to their game which is totally absent in Nadal.
Nadals tennis game - at his very best - is painful to watch. He looks like every point might possibly kill him. His service routine is a 25-30 second advertisement for some not yet invented OCD medication. During matches, he places two water bottles right next to each other in front of his chair, a few centimeters apart, and they have to be set exactly just so before he will take the court. But this insanity, this obsession with details and routines provides him with a positively adamantium level of willpower and legendary focus. He has the ability to bear down on certain key points and just outplay people in big spots.
Djokovic proved he is the best player in the world by beating Nadal in the 2012 Australian Open final 5–7, 6–4, 6–2, 6–7, 7–5, in what I would consider to be the second best tennis match I have seen in the last 10 years behind the epic 2008 Wimbledon final. Down 3-4, Love-40 in the 4th set, it looked like Djokovich would just roll Nadal over as he had so many other opponents. But Nadal would not give up. He beared down and made some adjustments. "Go look at the tape," Tennis Channel analyst Justin Gimelstob said. "Rafa changes it up. He starts serving more to the Djokovic forehand. He starts using the serve as a weapon, not just to start points. He starts going cross court way earlier in points. He's sneaking into the net more, standing closer to the baseline to take the ball earlier." Nadal won the set, and nearly won the match.
This year is a special one for the tennis players of Spain. They are unequalled by the players from any other country, and their performance in the 2012 ATP tournaments has proven it. Nadal has nothing left to prove to his countrymen, his peers, or the rest of the tennis world - his place in history is already certain. But knowing the mentality of The Great Spaniards, look for him to prove he is the all time king of clay in the 2012 French Open final.