Spaniard’s heart, soul displays finer aspects of sports

I don’t always watch tennis, but when I do, I prefer Rafael Nadal.

Sure, it might be partially due to those puppy dog eyes but only partially. I’m only human. Mostly it’s because of his gumption and the way he simply does not quit.

I sat riveted watching the entirety of the U.S. Open championship for over four hours. And Nadal, the guy I was pulling for wholeheartedly, was rarely ever in the lead.

In fact, Novak Djokovic outplayed him for the vast majority of the match.

But I hardly even noticed the insanely impossible shots executed by Djokovic, the guy who went 64-2 this year with three Grand Slam titles to his name.

For me, watching Nadal playing from behind like a man possessed was way more exciting.

I’m no tennis expert, but I’ve been around sports my entire life, whether it was as an player, coach, or simply just a spectator. I’ve seen  what the power of refusing to quit can do for an athlete.

Looking at the final score, it might seem like Djokovic won the title fairly easily. But for anyone who watched it – and Djokovic knew this better than anyone – it was anything but easy.

The Spaniard just would not quit. It was one of the best matches I’ve ever seen, and it didn’t even go five sets.

Even when Nadal was down two sets and the prospect of winning the third looked bleak, I still thought he had a chance. How could I possibly think that he had a shred of hope? Because he didn’t play defeated. He would score a single point and turn to the fans, screaming, “Vamos!” and fist pumping like he was the one up two.

If I hadn’t been watching the match and had turned it on right as Nadal hit one of the few winners he had, I would have been shocked to look at the scoreboard.

He played with intense courage the entire time, even when it seemed like nothing was going his way. Even when Djokovic somehow volleyed back every single shot he hit that should have been a winner.

Even when his serve, so effective last year, was broken time and time again. He kept battling back.

Mostly, I’m into team sports. I get team sports. The dynamic of being a small part of a larger whole makes sense to me. When one person falters, there are others there to pick them up.

But in tennis, there is no one else to break the fall.

I can’t imagine what was going through Nadal’s head when he realized nothing he was doing was working, and when he found himself facing the prospect of going down 2-0 against the world’s No. 1 ranked player.

Even at this point, he didn’t quit. He battled back to take the third set after he broke Djokovic’s serve to send into a thrilling tie break which he won handily 7-3, but ended up losing the fourth set and the match.

Djokovic played an incredible match. His technique is unquestionable.

But there’s a reason why I was pulling for Nadal and not him. You can teach technique. You can drill it into someone’s head until they’re executing a flawless backhand in their sleep.

You can teach technique, but you can’t teach heart. And Nadal has miles and miles of it.

CHRISTINE PEFFER

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