He has the heart of a lion, the strength of ten and the desire of a thousand men.
Rafa Nadal has become the first man ever to win 10 titles at the same tournament. Apart from Nadal’s receding hairline, nothing much has changed for the Monegasques over the last decade or so. His first appearance at Monte Carlo was in 2003, when he beat Slovak Karol Kucera in the first round. In the subsequent round, he stunned the defending French Open champion Albert Costa. It was that moment when people started taking note of Nadal’s impregnable clay court game. Nadal had won the Monte Carlo Masters for 8 years in a row (2005-2012), before Novak Djokovic beat him in 2013. This title is also his first this season, having lost three finals.
The next tournament Rafa plays is the Barcelona Open, again a tournament that he has won nine times and could complete a hat-trick of La Decimas by the end of the clay season. Barcelona Open has decided to acknowledge their 9-time champion by renaming the centre court as ‘Pista Rafa Nadal’. What an honour!
Rafa has won the French Open nine times and should he win it this year, he’d better his own record by becoming the first man to win a Grand Slam title ten times. Legendary players like Andre Agassi, Jimmy Connors and Boris Becker have won lesser Grand Slam titles in their entire career. His game against Albert Ramos-Vinolas showed that he plays a left-handed player better than any right-handed player. He changed his game according to a fellow left hander and focused more on hitting inside-outs rather than hitting cross-courts. And then there were his usual way of creating chances in a rally before snatching the point away. It is very difficult to put pressure on Nadal, especially on clay. Generally if a player is down 15-40, he would get defensive and just try and keep the ball in court, hoping for his opponent to commit an error. On the other hand, when Nadal gets nervous, he becomes more aggressive. In that moment of pressure, he would come up with an out-of-the-world-ly passing shot or a barely-kissing-the-line winner.
Rafa Nadal has won a total of 70 titles in his career, out of which 50 have been on clay. He is the favourite to win the French Open this year. With Federer winning the first three major titles of the year and then Nadal starting the clay court season by winning at Monte Carlo, the stats exactly match those in 2006, which highlights the dominance that these two players have had in the game. They have had their lows, they have been constantly criticized, they have hit rock bottom but then they have come back better, stronger and fiercer every time. These two men personify hardwork, determination, consistency and the spirit of the game. Nothing has dimmed their desire to win.