Why Rafael Nadal Is the Most Admirable Person in All of Sports

The hardrooting staff has written often about Rafael Nadal, one of our all-time favorite athletes along with New York Yankees icon Mickey Mantle (our youthful crush) and Mantle’s New York Rangers doppelgänger Rod Gilbert.

But Rafa is even more special.

Exhibit Umpteen: In the run-up to today’s Australian Open men’s singles final – which, if he won it, would give Nadal 21 major singles titles, moving him ahead of his Big Three compatriots Roger Federer and Novak Djokivic – Rafa said this, as Christopher Clarey noted in the New York Times: “Being very honest, for me is much more important to have the chance to play tennis than win the 21, no?”

Yes.

Nadal also said this after his semi-final win over Matteo Berritini: “Two months ago I didn’t know if I could play tennis again and it is a gift of life to be able to be here. In the last six months, I have had many doubts as to whether I could continue. But now I feel good.”

Today marked Nadal’s improbable sixth final at the Australian Open. He beat Federer for the title in 2009; lost a five hour, 53 minute epic to Djokovic in 2012; hurt his back and lost to Stan Wawrinka in 2014; lost to Federer in 2017 after leading 3-1 in the fifth set; and lost to Djokovic in straight sets in 2019.

Which brings us to today’x title match against Russian ace Daniil Medvedev, a decade younger than Nadal and the winner of the 2021 U.S. Open final against Djokovic, which kept the Serbian player from reaching 21 major titles.

A bouquet of ledes, starting with Christopher Clarey in the New York Times.

MELBOURNE, Australia — For an aging champion who has earned his reputation as one of the greatest competitors in sports, it was a fitting way to stand alone with 21 Grand Slam men’s singles titles.

Down, two sets to none, in the Australian Open final, against the higher ranked and considerably younger Daniil Medvedev, Rafael Nadal did not simply count himself fortunate to have made it so far in a tournament he once considered himself unlikely to play.

Instead, he did what he has done since he burst onto the tennis scene nearly 20 years ago as a longhaired teenager in pirate pants.

He fought. He thought. He fought and thought some more, and his prize was his most unexpected major title and a victory, 2-6, 6-7 (5), 6-4, 6-4, 7-5, that was utterly suitable for archiving.

Associated Press report (via ESPN).

MELBOURNE, Australia — Searching for inspiration when he was down two sets and facing triple break point, with his prospects of winning a record 21st Grand Slam title almost shot, Rafael Nadal thought back to some of his most difficult defeats.

A renowned right-to-the-end competitor, Nadal dug deep in that critical moment and won the next four points to survive the immediate threat from Daniil Medvedev. Minutes later he held for 3-3 in the third set and swung the momentum of the Australian Open final around.

Liz Clarke at the Washington Post.

By the fifth set of Sunday’s Australian Open final, having battled back after falling two sets in arrears, Rafael Nadal had no energy for the pirate-like leaps of his youth or even a shout of “Vamos!”

To save what energy remained, he celebrated service breaks and big points against Daniil Medvedev with a simple clenched fist.

In the end, after a five-hour, 24-minute battle of attrition, Nadal’s champion’s heart, resolute belief and extraordinary stamina delivered the most significant victory of his career — and a men’s record 21st Grand Slam title, 2-6, 6-7 (5), 6-4, 6-4, 7-5.

See for yourself.

 

(You can watch the entire match here if you like.)

Medvedev was extremely gracious and humble in hs remarks after the match.

 

Rafa was equally gracious and humble.

 

John McEnroe had it right. “Rafa . . . has to be the humblest, classiest champion of almost any athlete I’ve ever seen in any sport,”

Yes.

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