Felicidades España

Not watching much tennis for in recent days, not much of the Davis Cup Finals, even, that concluded last week with Spain lifting that title for the sixth time, the first time since 2000.

I definitely want to give a nice ovation to this team and their leader, not Sergi Bruguera although his competitive tennis IQ should be applauded, as well. I’m talking, of course, about my nemesis, Rafael “Rafa” Nadal Parera.

I have hinted at, if not offered more conciliatory discussion (see: concession), the fact that Rafa and his competitive desires and even athletic style remind me of me. I played and excelled in soccer at the collegiate level, even brandishing my hunger (and skills) at Queen Mary College of the University of London for a term. I was pretty good. My son just made his varsity high school team as a sophomore, a decent distinction, but relevant to note that this kid, my son, has a lot more skill than I had at that age.

But he does not have my hunger and desire to win, at all costs.

Watching Rafa, in a way (let’s not lose track of reality here) reminds me of how I like to approach sport.

So, indeed this criticism of mine (Nadalism and the like) seems pretty ironic (to me).

I just wanted to make sure to pen an appreciation of Rafa and this great run from this Spanish squad.

From Bruguera to RBA, to Feli Lopez and even the grinding and competent Carenno Busta (along with Granollers — not to leave anyone out), any tennis fan has to appreciate this team’s tennis, competitive desire and class.

Bautista Agut’s emotional win over Felix Auger-Aliassime after attending his father’s funeral (I think he started 2019 with an emotional run of tennis, at Doha if I’m not mistaken, even beating Djokovic in the process, securing a title, in the wake of a family illness or death) seems so typical RBA.

We’ve written about RBA at length, his class, his consistent BL game that harkens us back to the good old days when players (and people in general) seemed more apt to punch-the-clock, put-in a solid day at the office, and go home to be with loved one’s, with an old world modesty and sense of virtue or character in the bag.

How can we forget Roberto’s run at Wimbledon this year, the postponement of his wedding (or bachelor party) in the wake of his run to the Semi-finals. Great stuff continues to flow from this legendary athlete who probably won’t make many great chronicles of the sport (other than this blog).

We love Feli’s classy all-court tennis, and appreciate the grind of Busta, but we have to acknowledge the run from the real Spanish leader, coach and inspiration.

Rafa I’m told never got to bed before 3am during the string of DC ties that he needed to win for his team to advance. I hear one or two evenings he got to bed around 5am.

The indoor court, hard, dismissing the usual clay of Caja Mágica, does not play at all to the Spaniard’s game. No worries: he overcame. Winning, I try to tell my kid this, relates to heart as much or more than it does to skill. Nadal manifests this better than anyone.

Thinking Novak might be in a position to lead his team to the DC title (he seemed motivated, etc.) yet watching Nadal come-out on top, despite the aforementioned playing conditions, invoked a pretty clear thought in my head, that I’ve had many time before with regards to this Spanish great: the guy is a winner. I know that seems too obvious.

But that’s seemingly all he does, again, despite what I prospect and raise to my mantle of tennis discourse on the regular, throughout the year. His playing style makes me queasy, but his style of overcoming odds and winning so consistently despite what are clearly skill deficiencies is actually the greatest skill one can have, in the end.

Sure I will have more to say about this as I chronicle this love/hate relationship with one of the sport’s GOATS.


4 thoughts on “Felicidades España

  1. Tony

    Matt: I always appreciate the candor with which you write, not just about your subject but also yourself, and some of your conflicting feelings about Nadal.

    I wanted to ask about one thing you wrote, not as a challenge but as a genuine inquiry into your thinking:. You say that Nadal clearly has “skill deficiencies.” That is a surprising claim (I have long understood that you find both the aesthetics and the tactics of Nadal’s game displeasing.)

    From my vantage point, Nadal’s topspin forehand is one of the great weapons in the sport. I think that’s a pretty universal opinion, even though it can be neutered on some low-bounce hardcourts. His two handed backhand has become increasingly reliable and formidable, although the consistency waxes and wanes. He is one of the best volleyers in tennis. Even at 33, he remains an athletic marvel: his speed, court coverage, footwork, agility, defensive ball retrieval are elite. He has one of the best overheads in the sport. Obviously, his serve has long been the weakest part of his game, but over the past few years that, too, has dramatically improved, as Nadal has added pace and become even better with placement. His percentage of points won on first serve is excellent. His desire to shorten points (credit the influence of Moya), to reduce wear and tear on his body, has been the catalyst for this more aggressive serving. While it certainly does not rank with the top guys on tour, I think his serve now counts as an asset.

    Maybe you will quibble with that synopsis, but I think that’s a pretty fair assessment. What then, are these deficiencies of which you speak? The reason I raise this is because I think while you said it in admiration, the concept of Nadal, implacable, grinding “winner” — gives short shrift to just how gifted he is. He is not beating the best players in the world on guts and guile. He is one of the most supremely talented players to ever step foot on court. I appreciate that you do not like HOW he plays; but, again, that is a stylistic critique. I am curious to hear what components you find lacking in his overall game, such that they are not merely relative weaknesses (serve; inconsistent BH) but substandard elements.



    1. Tony,
      I enjoy the discourse quite a bit, as you know.
      I’ve answered your “inquiry” several times on this blog.
      His tennis is quite limited, but his desire not at all — to reiterate my post.

      However, if I have to explain these deficiencies to you, meaning
      you don’t already see them, my explanation will likely go
      in-one-ear-and-out-the-other: you hear what you want to hear.
      And if you’re a Nadal fanboy, even more so.

      One of the biggest issues with Nadal (here’s a clue)
      is he’s unmistakably a man of his time. Period.

      Ha ha.

      Take care.


      1. Tony

        With all due respect, pretty much everything I’ve read on this blog — and I certainly haven’t canvassed all the posts going back for years — relates to your stylistic objections to Nadal’s game. He stands too far back. He hits moonball forehands. He takes too long to serve, he has annoying tics, he either fakes or manages his injuries in a way that violates the spirit of the rules, etc. Fair enough.

        But not a single one of these indictments — unless you want to argue, against the first hand testimony of his peers, that his forehand is deficient — relates to skill.

        Forehand. Backhand. Return. Net play. Defense. Serve. Court coverage. These are the basic, unchanging components. As I pointed out, other than “serve” —which for most of his career has been middling, and his BH — there’s no way to argue with a straight face that the other elements of his game are lacking in any meaningful way. (I’d say the same about Federer and Djokovic. They are all “GOAT” contenders for a reason.)

        I’ll treat your non-response as an indication that you find the question tiresome (again, fair enough). But my conclusion is that you are conflating your well documented aesthetic complaints with a deficient skill set. They are not at all the same thing.

        In any event, vigorous disagreement is far more interesting than unanimity. Thanks for taking the time to respond, and for writing such engaging prose.



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