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HindustanTimes Thu,21 Aug 2014

Tennis

Tears, fears drive on Nadal the merciless
AFP
New York, September 10, 2013
First Published: 09:51 IST(10/9/2013)
Last Updated: 11:33 IST(10/9/2013)

Rafael Nadal captured a 13th Grand Slam title on Monday in his 18th final at a major to take his record in 2013 to 10 titles, 60 wins against three defeats and a hardcourt streak of 22 victories.

They are mind-boggling statistics for a player who 12 months ago feared his career was finished at just 26, his rip-roaring, action-man style exacting a painful, sometimes crippling price on his always suspect knees.

It's the kind of story fans love and with over five million followers on Twitter, eight-time French Open champion Nadal, also the 2010 winner in New York, has recruited plenty of converts dedicated to his dramatic story. Read: Nadal wins second US Open, 13th Grand Slam title

The boy who started playing when he was four has endured remarkable highs and lows with his talents on the world's tennis courts enriched for the public by his seemingly endless modesty.

There are days even now when, despite being one of the most famous men in the sport, he will still feel the need to introduce himself by name.

Rafael Nadal, of Spain, bites the trophy while posing for photos after defeating Novak Djokovic, of Serbia, during the men's singles final of the 2013 US Open in New York. (AP Photo)

When he slipped to his only defeat at the French Open in 2009 against the free-swinging Robin Soderling, he did not cry foul due to the knees that were crumbling beneath him.

Instead, he praised the pugnacious Swede, expressing all the right words regarding the best man winning.

Two weeks later, Nadal made a tearful withdrawal from Wimbledon, surrendering the title he had fought so hard to snatch 12 months earlier for the first time, putting to rest the ill-informed view that he was just a claycourt bully.

He has been bouncing back ever since.

After a second-round loss at Wimbledon in 2012, he disappeared from the sport for seven months, missing the defense of his Olympic title, the US Open and this year's Australian Open.

Rafael Nadal of Spain stretches to play a backhand during his men's singles final match against Novak Djokovic of Serbia on Day Fifteen of the 2013 US Open. (AFP Photo)

Wimbledon, where he was also champion in 2010, haunted him again this year when he suffered an embarrassing first-round loss to Belgian journeyman Steve Darcis, which prompted calls for him to skip the tournament in the future.

When Nadal, who beat Novak Djokovic in four sets in the US Open final on Monday, has faced his trials, he has taken solace with his family -- his uncle Toni has been his coach since childhood -- or gone fishing or played golf.

His other uncle, Miguel Angel Nadal, is a former professional footballer who played with Barcelona and the Spanish national team that competed in 2002 World Cup.

Victory on Monday gave Nadal a 60th career title and took his earnings comfortably past the $60 million mark.

He now stands at four majors behind the record of 17 held by Roger Federer and just one shy of the 14 secured by Pete Sampras. 

Not that he will have much time to rest on his laurels as he will now be heading back to Madrid to lead Spain's campaign to stay in the Davis Cup World Group at home to Ukraine.

Rafael Nadal of Spain poses with his trophy after defeating Novak Djokovic of Serbia in their men's final match at the US Open tennis championships in New York. (Reuters Photo)

Nadal boasts a record of 20 wins in 21 rubbers for his country.

He always had tennis' version of the 'right stuff'.

In 2002, he won his first ATP match in his hometown of Mallorca at just 15 years and 10 months, while in 2006, he compiled an Open Era record 62-match clay court winning streak, surpassing Guillermo Vilas' mark of 53 in 1977.

His rivalry with Federer, which he dominates 21-10, has become the stuff of legend and the two men have become close away from the sport.

Despite all that, Nadal never takes his success for granted.

"If you don't feel that you can improve, then you don't know anything about life, because nothing is perfect in this life," he said.

One of Nadal's achievements, however, looks pretty perfect to most observers, especially men.

In 2010, he appeared in a steamy music video with Colombian pop siren Shakira.


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