Nadal: This Raging Bull is the Greatest Fighter in Tennis History

The story behind the powerful Spaniard’s journey to tennis immortality.

Lon Shapiro
Sep 8, 2019 · 16 min read
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US Open 2017: Mike Segar / Reuters

On a humid September evening in New York, six days before the Men’s Singles championship match will take place, Rafael Nadal is flitting about the court like a bumblebee with 14-inch biceps.

Nadal’s implacable instinct to fight on every shot in every rally, during every point, every game, every set, every match and every tournament for the entirety of his career makes him the greatest fighter in the history of tennis, and possibly any sport where human beings compete.

Maybe Nadal’s team knew Cilic has a weak backhand volley. Maybe Nadal sensed it was the key moment to close out the match. Or maybe Nadal is a T-3000 cyborg assassin sent from the future.

“Expectations don’t win matches, you do.” — Rafael Nadal

In the world of athletic performance, only bees and Nadal seem to defy the laws of physics.

“Antoine Magnan, a French zoologist, in 1934 made some very careful studies of bumblebee flight and came to the conclusion that bumblebees cannot fly at all! Fortunately, the bumblebees never heard this bit of news and so went on flying as usual. “ — Ross Hutchins

Everything about Rafael Nadal physical form flies (no pun intended) in the face of established tennis dogma.

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If Roger Federer is Da Vinci, the greatest artist to ever paint the lines of a tennis court with his racket work, Rafael Nadal is Michangelo, willing to paint the Sistine Chapel while lying on his back.

“I learned during my career to enjoy suffering.” — Nadal

Nadal is one of the greatest tacticians I’ve ever seen in tennis.

There’s a reason Nadal is one of only of four men in the Open Era of tennis who has been able to win both the French Open and Wimbledon in the same year.

Elite athletes do have physical limitations, and Nadal’s ability to adjust and recover only add to his legacy.

Nadal, in spite of his injuries, has played almost an extra full season than Djokovic, and three seasons more than the #4 player on the list, who has played 961 matches.

Nadal reinvented himself to shorten points, preserve his body and prolong his career, and his comeback starting in 2017 has been one of the most successful ever.

But the comeback has come at a cost. Nadal will continue to suffer, knowing that the changes he made to prolong his career will work against him when he plays his two greatest rivals.

The thing that made Nadal kryptonite for Federer was also killing Nadal, leading to a fascinating crossroads match as the two rivals met again at the beginning of their comebacks in 2017.

Nadal may once again be ranked #1 in the world at the end of 2019, but will never earn the luxury of becoming complacent, because he will still be the underdog against his two greatest rivals.

Regardless of what happens in today’s US Open final, Rafael Nadal is again the last man standing.

“Endure — put up with whatever comes your way, learn to overcome weakness and pain, push yourself to breaking point but never cave in. If you don’t learn that lesson, you’ll never succeed as an elite athlete.” Rafael Nadal

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Lon Shapiro

Written by

Ad agency creative director, writer & designer at https://guttmanshapiro.com. Former pro tennis player and peak performance coach for professional athletes.

THE WORD IS NOT ENOUGH

Welcome to the land of Curgatory: Music, Art, Humor, Sports, James Bond puns and all the stuff you want to read but will never find in the featured section of your feed.

Lon Shapiro

Written by

Ad agency creative director, writer & designer at https://guttmanshapiro.com. Former pro tennis player and peak performance coach for professional athletes.

THE WORD IS NOT ENOUGH

Welcome to the land of Curgatory: Music, Art, Humor, Sports, James Bond puns and all the stuff you want to read but will never find in the featured section of your feed.

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