Rafael Nadal and Andy Roddick, 2004

The story of a 18 year old kid who defeats the world number one to help his team win the Davis Cup trophy.

From Rafael Nadal’s autobiography, Rafa:

You didn’t need especially fine antennae on the eve of the Davis Cup Final of 2004 to spot the disgruntlement in the faces of Juan Carlos Ferrero and Tommy Robredo, denied their places in history by the eighteen-year-old upstart Nadal.
It was obvious by anybody watching the team press conference the night before the first day of play, seeing the foursome pose for photographs, that the Spanish team was not a portrait of patriotic harmony. Carlos Moya, Spain’s number one, spoke with ambassadorial poise; Ferrero and Robredo looked as if they would rather be somewhere else; Nadal fidgeted, stared at his feet and forced smiles that did little to disguise his unease.

“When Rafa came to me and said he was willing to cede his place in the match against Roddick to one of the two older guys, I said no, that was the captains’ call and, anyway, he had my full confidence. But inside,” Moya recalls, “I had my doubts.” Moya transmitted the same message to Toni Nadal, who was also uncomfortable. “The decision has been made,” Moya said, “and I saw no point in causing even more tension in the group, and adding to the pressure on Rafa, who was in a dilemma, by saying anything else.”

Moya spoke bluntly to Ferrero, asking him to take the decision on the chin and remember that he had played his part in getting Spain to the final. The Davis Cup record books would show that, and wins for him and Nadal would mean victory for him too. Whether they bought the argument or not, Rafa’s doubts as to the legitimacy of him playing was now an added factor of concern for Moya. Had Rafa been more brash, less sensitive, had he either not picked up on, or simply not been bothered by, the ill feeling that suddenly plagued the group, he would at least have been going into the decisive match against the experienced American number one in a less cluttered frame of mind. But that was not the case.
Moya knew very well that beneath the gladiatorial front he put on during a match there lurked a wary, sensitive soul; he knew the Clark Kent Rafa the indecisive one who had to hear many opinions before he could make up his mind, the one afraid of the dark, frightened of dogs. When Nadal visited Moya at home, Moya had to lock up his dog up in a bedroom, otherwise Nadal would be completely incapable of settling down.

He was a highly strung young man alert to other people’s feelings, accustomed to a protected and harmonious family environment, out of sorts when there was bad blood. Spain’s Davis Cup family was distinctly out of sorts now, and making things worse, Nadal was – if not the cause – certainly at the heart of the problem. Getting his head in order for the biggest match of his life, Moya sensed, was going to be a bigger challenge than usual for his young friend. As if that were not bad enough, Moya could not help reminding himself that Rafa, however sharp he might have looked in training that week, had lost just fourteen days earlier against a player ranked 400 in the world. And his serve was conspicuously weaker than Roddick’s, which was almost 50 percent faster.

But Moya did also have reasons to believe in his young teammate. he had know Rafa since he was twelve years old, had trained with him scores of times, and had been beaten by him two years earlier in an important tournament. No top professional had been closer to Rafa, and none would continue to remain on more intimate terms with him, than his fellow Mallorcan.

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2004 Davis Cup final: Nadal defeats Roddick

Rafael Nadal, 2010 US Open

Back in 2010, Nadal was the man to beat. After his victories in Roland Garros and Wimbledon, he defeated Novak Djokovic to claim his first US Open trophy and complete a Golden career Grand Slam.

From Rafa’s autobiography, Rafa:

The secret lies in being able to do what you know you can do when you most need it. Djokovic is a fantastic player, but in a Grand Slam final, decided over the best of five sets, nerves and stamina count as much as talent. Any doubts I might have had before the match began had been dispelled by my performance in the first two sets. As for the stress of a US Open final, I’d won eight Grand Slams to his one, and that gave me the confidence of knowing that I could take it on at least as well as he. Another thing going for me was that his track record showed that he flagged physically in longer matches. He had never beaten me in a best-of-five match. He was, it was true, a player who have dazzling moments, but I was playing steadily, the diesel engine was purring. I sensed that if I won the third set, he’d be left feeling as if he had a mountain to climb.

But he got right into his groove at the start of the third set, picking up where he had left off at the end of the second. The match could not have been more evenly balanced at this point, with the tide, if anything, shifting slightly his way. I shot a glance at my team and family, who were all sitting together in a clump to my left. Toni, Carlos, Titin, my father, and Tuts, and behind them my mother, my sister and Maria Francisca, who looked especially nervous. This was only the second time she’d come to watch me play a Grand Slam final. Usually she watches at home, alone, as she did during Wimbledon in 2008, or with her parents. If it all gets too much for her, she’s confessed to me, she changes channels for a while or leaves the room. This time, in New York, she said she had to resist the urge at times to get up and leave. Right now was the moment in the match where her resolve was most tested.

Maria Francisca has played tennis and understood as well as I did that the rain break had given Djokovic a boost. He showed it in the first point of the set, playing it impeccably, pulling me wide to the left and finishing it off with an electric backhand winner down the line to my right. He repeated the trick, with a deeper shot, after a longer rally on the second point. Too good.

I took it well. Some players explode with anger when their opponent is dominating them. But there’s no point. It can only do you harm. You just have to think, “I can’t do anything about this, so why worry?” He was taking a lot of risks and they were paying off, for now, but I was managing to play at the level of intensity I wanted, hitting the ball hard and deep without taking risks, leaving myself more margin for error. “If I can’t come back on the next point, I will on the one after that.”
Not in this game, though. He won it, handing just the one point with a rather inexplicable double-fault – he seemed to want to go for a second-serve ace. OK. So it goes. Bad luck. He was ahead, and I’d have to play catch-up on my serve, maybe for a long time.

The next game was a critically important one for me to win. He’d won the previous three, if you included the last two of the second set, and I had to stop him in his tracks or risk being overrun. I played the first point intelligently, playing the ball high. If you hit it low or medium height to Djokovic, especially when his line of vision is as sharp as it was now, he strikes the ball perfectly. But if he receives the ball at shoulder height, you make him uncomfortable, you make him guess, put him off his stride. This was how I went 15-love up. Not by hitting a winner, but by bludgeoning him into making an un uncharacteristic mistake. That gave me confidence to up my game, take a risk, and win the next point with a deep forehand to the corner. He nodded, as if to say, “There was nothing I could do about that.” I don’t do that. I don’t do that. I don’t show my appreciation of an opponent’s better shots. Not because I am impolite but because it would be too dangerous a departure from my match script. But his attitude was the correct one: bow before the inevitable and move on.
I won the game without dropping a point and then, in an unexpected early bonus, broke his serve to go 2-1 up after playing one of my best shots of the match, a cross-court backhand on the run from two meters behind the base line. 

Feeling psychologically at my strongest in the match so far, I felt I was beginning to edge ahead in the mental battle. In our past encounters Djokovic had shown a tendency to grow frustrated as the game progressed when he saw he had to push himself to the limit on every point. He also tended to tire more quickly than I do. That’s what I had in the back of my mind. In the front, I was only thinking of the next point. (…)

He was battling to hold his serve; I was winning mine comfortably – as I did now, at love, to go 4-2 up. Another chance to break him and what felt like another thousand game points to me, but again I failed to make the decisive breakthrough. I was playing better, undoubtedly, and he was on the ropes – but holding on. We each held serve the next two games, and I found myself serving at 5-4 for the set. 
Now I became nervous. It is when victory appears to be in sight that I so often seem to suffer an attack of vertigo. If I won the game and I went two sets to one up, I’d be two thirds of the way to winning my fourth Grand Slam. Djokovic would then have to win the next two sets, and he could see that I wouldn’t be giving him an inch. Much as I tried to banish the thought entirely from my mind, there it lurked, inhibiting me. That was why it was important to keep playing safe, sticking more than ever to my natural defensive game, hoping his nerves would be more frayed than mine. 
We started out the game with two very long rallies, more than twenty shots each. I won the first one when he hit the ball long; he, the second, with a terrific forehand winner. It was fifteen all and I felt the tension rise, yet I remained just about composed enough to register that, satisfied as he might have been at having won the point so well, he also grasped he’d have to dig very deep to get the upper hand against me. 
I lost the next point with a reckless forehand but bounced back to 30-30 with a great serve high and wide. Typically, I would have played safe on the serve. I’d have concentrated on getting the first one in, sparing myself the prospect of handing him the possible gift of a hesitant second serve. But I’d never been more confident in my serve than in this tournament, and I felt the moment had come to go for broke. It was the correct decision. My next serve was an ace, which gave me set point, and the one after that was just as good – wide, hard, and unreturnable on his backhand side. I had won the set 6-4.

Here was crystal clear vindication of the philosophy of hard work that had guided me in my twenty years of tennis life. here was compelling cause-and-effect evidence that the will to in and the will to prepare are one and the same. I had worked long and hard before the US Open on my serve. And here it was, paying off when I most needed it, saving me at just the moment when my nerves threatened to undermine the rest of my game. I was on the brink of something truly great.
The fact that I got to this point was the culmination of long years of sacrifice and dedication, all based on the unbreakable premise that there are no shortcuts to sustained success. You can’t cheat in elite sports. Talent enough won’t get you through. That’s just the first building block, on top of which you must pile relentlessly repetitive work in the gym, work on the courts, work studying videos of yourself and your opponents in action, always striving to get fitter, better, cleverer. I made a choice to become a professional tennis player, and the result of that choice could only be unflagging discipline and a continual desire to improve. (…)

Novak Djokovic is one of the contemporary greats, no doubt about it, but, with darkness falling in New York, I was beating him two sets to one. It was nine fifteen when he served at the start of the fourth set. He was playing well, but I was playing very well. I knew he had to be feeling under a lot of strain, having been obliged to play from behind right from the start, at no point finding himself in the lead in the match. And now he was falling further behind. If I went ahead in this set, it was going to be very hard for him mentally. The pressure was on me too, but I had sufficient experience of Grand Slam finals to be confident my game would hold up.

At 1-1, on his serve, I smelled blood. The momentum had been with me since the beginning of the third set, and I was not going to let it go. My legs were fresh and I felt a surge of confidence. He, on the other hand, was tiring in both mind and body, and it showed in the first two points of the game, which he lost badly, with the lamest shots. his first serve kept working, throwing him a lifeline, but after I ripped a forehand winner past his defenses, he surrendered the game at thirty. I had my break and I served to go 3-1 up. (…)

I didn’t have to push myself as hard as I’d expected to break Djokovic’s serve a second time. He failed a forehand on the first point, hitting it long, and I hammered home the advantage by winning the next one with a forehand drive that caught him way out of position. Then he doubled faulted to go 0-40 down. I missed my first chance, looping a forehand long, but then surrendered the match, yelling in despair after he mishit a simple forehand into the net. I was winning 4-1 two sets to one up and about to serve. (…)

Serving for the match at 5-2, the nerves returned. They are always there. As difficult to conquer as your opponent across the net, and, like your opponent, sometimes they are up, sometimes they are down. Right now they were the biggest remaining obstacle between me and victory. I looked up at my corner, saw the old familiar faces, elated, shouting encouragement. Inside I wanted so much to win this for them, for all of us, but my face – a good face – betrayed nothing. 
The nerves were getting to everybody. Djokovic hit his return of serve long on the first point, and then the line judge declared one of his balls out that had clearly hit the line. We had to replay the point. Everything was life-and-death now, and this changed call was a blow. I had to put it out of my mind immediately and keep reminding myself to play steadily, nothing clever, give him plenty of room to make mistakes.
On the second point he went for another drop. This time I did tun for it, and made it. He reached the volley, and I, my nose almost touching the net, volleyed the ball right back to win the point, 30-0. The crowd, unable to stay quiet during this point, as in many previous points, went nuts – Toni more so than anyone. I looked up and saw him over to my left. He was on his feet, fists clenched, trying not to cry. I did cry. With the towel I wiped the tears away from my eyes. Through the blur, I saw it; I saw victory now. I knew I shouldn’t, but I did.
Not quite yet, though. He got a lucky net cord on the next point, and the ball dribbled over my side of the net. Inwardly, I cursed. I could have been 40-0 up and in a position to play the next point calmly, knowing it was all over. Instead, more stress. And then he made it to thirty all after I hurried my shot, missing an attempt at a forehand winner. My heart was racing, nerves battling with elation. Just two more points and I’d make it. I tried hard to stay focused, saying to myself, “Play easy, no risks, just keep the ball in.”
This time I followed my script. The rally was a long one, fifteen shots. We exchanged a dozen hard baseline punches, and then he came to the net behind a deep drive to my backhand corner. This time it was me who got a touch of luck. The ball skimmed the top of the net, and as he managed to stab it back over, I ran diagonally across the court and scooped up the forehand. He was expecting me to hit cross-court. Instead, I went down the line, and the ball, heavy with topspin, looped in. Djokovic couldn’t believe it. He issued a challenge; he was wrong. The screen showed the ball had gone in, by a millimeter, brushing the outside of the baseline. Djokovic crouched down and bowed his head, the image of defeat. Toni, Titin, and my father clenched their fists, screaming “Vamos!” Tuts, my mother and my sister applauded, laughing with joy. Maria Francisca had her hands on her head, as if not believing what seemed to be about to happen. 
Match point. Championship point. Everything point. I glanced up at my team, as if imploring them to give me courage, seeking from them some measure of calm. Fighting back tears again, I served. Wide to the backhand, as instructed. The rally lasted six shots. On the sixth he hit the ball wide, well wide, and out. My legs buckled and I fell to the ground before the ball had even landed and  I stayed there, facedown, sobbing, my body shaking.

For all the passion and work I had invested for so long in trying to make myself as good a tennis player as I could be, this was truly something I had never imagined. As I held the US Open trophy and the cameras flashed and the crowd roared, I understood that I had made the impossible possible. I was, for that brief moment, on top of the world.

Rafa Nadal, Beijing Olympics

Excerpt from Rafael Nadal‘s autobiography Rafa:

I stayed in the Olympic village with all the other athletes, and once again, as in the Davis Cup, I had a taste of that team spirit that I loved so much when I played football as a kid. Living with my Spanish teammates, in the same residential compound, meeting and making friends with the Spanish basketball team and track athletes (some of whom, a little embarrassingly, would stop me in the corridors, or in the communal laundry room where we all washed our clothes, to ask me for my autograph) and stepping out in uniform alongside them all for the opening ceremony – these were unforgettable experiences. But my sense of good fortune came accompanied by a strong dose of indignation.

I understood better than ever just how privileged we professional tennis players are, and how unjust is the predicament of so many Olympic athletes. They train incredibly hard, at least as hard as we do, yet the rewards tend to be far smaller. A tennis player ranked number eighty in the world has economic benefits, social privileges, and a degree of recognition beyond the dreams of someone who is number one in track and field, swimming, or gymnastics. On the tennis circuit everything is laid on for us all year round, and the money we receive allows us the chance to save for our futures. These people train with the discipline of monks over a period of four years in preparation for the one competition that stands out above all others, the Olympics, yet the vast majority of them receive very little support relative to the effort they invest. It’s admirable that they should prepare so rigorously, at so much personal sacrifice, for the mere satisfaction of competing and because of the passion they feel for their sports. That has a value beyond price. But that shouldn’t have to be enough. With all the income the International Olympic Committee generates from the Games – an event that depends for its success on the commitment of the athletes – you’d think they might be able to share the cash a little more fairly. In my case, I have no need to be paid, luckily, but an athlete who runs in the 400 meters or the marathon needs a lot of financial backing just to be able to train at the level required to make it to the Olympics and then compete for the top prizes. I understand that tennis has broader public appeal, at least over the course of a calendar year, but I think it’s unjust that more of an effort is not made to allow these incredibly dedicated people to live more decently and train in better conditions.

But these were my reflections after it was all over. Moaning and griping was not what defined my time in Beijing. What stays with me, above all, was the camaraderie between the athletes and the chance I had to learn about so many different new sports and discover how much we all had in common. Just to be able to participate, and to have access to a world I never thought I’d get to know, was uplifing enough.

Then to win gold in the men’s singles, after beating Djokovic in the semis and Fernando Gonzalez of Chile in the final, and to see the Spanish flag being raised to the accompaniment of the national anthem as I stood on the winner’s podium: well, it was one of my life’s proudest moments. People don’t usually associate the Olympic Games with tennis. I certainly didn’t when I was growing up. The game only reappeared as an Olympic sport in 1988, after a 64 years absence. But in tennis players’ minds Olympic gold has become something to covet. After a Grand Slam, it’s now the prize we most cherish.

Rafael Nadal, Wimbledon 2010

From Rafael Nadal’s autobiography Rafa:

That diesel engine image Carlo Costa uses to describe me was especially appropriate in this tournament.
I started sluggishly, but once I got going, there was no stopping me. I nearly went out in the second round, squeaking through in five sets, but the further I advanced and the tougher the opponents were the more my game improved.

I beat Soderling in the quarterfinals in four sets and Andy Murray in the semis in three. In the match against Murray the Centre Court behaved impeccably. The British have been longing to have their own Wimbledon champion since 1936, when Fred Perry last won, and the crowd made it quite clear from the start where their allegiances lay. Murray, seeded four in the tournament, was the best hope they had had in a long time. Yet I felt they were entirely fair with me throughout, not cheering my double faults, clapping after my better shots. And when, to the disappointment of the great majority, I won in straight sets, they did not begrudge me a warm ound of applause.

I had expected that if I made it to the final, I’d be meeting Roger Federer for the fourth year running. I didn’t. My opponent this time was the number twelve seed Tomas Berdych, who’d had a brilliant run in the tournament, beating Federer in the quarters and Djokovic in the semifinals.
Though complacency was not on my mind, I was not nearly as nervous as I had been before the final two years earlier. Just as never having played a Wimbledon final before places you at a disavantage, the experience of having done so – in my case four times now- provides a soothing measure of familiarity. Playing an almost perfect game, I won in three sets, 6-3 7-5 6-4, to collect my second Wimbledon championship and eight Grand Slam.

RAFA’s book review

Article written by Tennis Buzz new contributor, Lewis Davies.
Lewis is a 20-year-old sports fan, webmaster of Ace of Baseline, a blog that focus on the next tennis superstars .

They say you should never judge a book by its cover and as it turns out, it couldn’t be more true for the cover of Rafael Nadal’s memoir.

With his chest bare and broad, a stern-faced Nadal leers like a warrior ready for battle. The warrior expression is what we’re used to seeing from the multiple Grand Slam winner on his battleground of the tennis court but it holds more of an intimidating look on the front of Rafa; one which hundreds of tennis players who share the locker room with him have to contend with before even entering the fold.

But while this is the Nadal we are all familiar with on court it’s far from the Mallorcan, family-loving football fanatic his closest personnel know inside out. His family have bred him to be a gentleman and a humble one at that.

There’s a reason he’s shirtless too. Not just to make the ladies swoon but it’s a statement of how naked and open he is with the most intimate details of his personal life. It’s a surprise the book even came to pass with the attitude he holds to keeping his private life under lock and key.

If there were still things to strive for like an eluding Grand Slam title or Olympic gold medal, there’s no doubt Nadal wouldn’t have taken time out to work on it. His uncle and coach Toni Nadal would not have stood for anything less.

Such is the importance of the team Nadal has assembled and loyally stuck by for his whole career, the
often strained relationship with his coach is centred on throughout the book as Rafael and his family struggled to come to terms with his uncle’s harsh tutorage.

The book itself consists of Nadal looking back on his two greatest triumphs at Wimbledon 2008 where he defeated Roger Federer for his dream title and the 2010 US Open, the scene of his career Grand Slam. Each chapter reflects with a series of flashbacks as to how the character of the champion was built to overcome his greatest tests.

Every subject associated with Nadal is brought up. His routines in the locker room, his much scrutinised on-court habits, the relentless work ethic and possibly the best 21st century rivalry in sport between himself and Federer.

There’s a lot of setbacks and a lot of tears. The dark days are described as vividly as the glory days on Centre Court and Arthur Ashe Stadium. At times, the story of Rafael Nadal is inspirational in that it makes you go that mile further or do those extra few reps at the gym after reading.

At the end of every section Spain’s British writer John Carlin gives a welcome extension to the words Nadal says, offering analysis and contributions from his team and family, adding to the picture of the champion and the man behind the records.

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