A true rebound ace,Rafa

Rafael Nadal holding court in a crowded room full of scribes,minutes after winning his second US Open title.

Written by Aditya Iyer | Published:September 11, 2013 2:08 am

“Don’t worry. I will lose. Everybody lose,no?”

You can almost picture it. Rafael Nadal holding court in a crowded room full of scribes,minutes after winning his second US Open title. He would have knotted his brows and stared directly at the questioner,one who wanted to know just how Nadal went unbeaten on his least favourite surface (for both his spin-heavy game and his squishy knees) all season long in his return-from-injury year.

Then,after fully processing the question,the knots would have relaxed — as would the room,all laughing together once the Spaniard assured the journalist of his human qualities. Vintage Rafa.

That he is perhaps the nicest and most humble man to have succeeded in pro tennis,Nadal tends to remind the world time and again with his actions (remember the apologetic hug and the ‘I’m sincerely sorry’ speech after winning the Australian Open over his original rival,Roger Federer?) and his endearing English. But that he is also one of the greatest all-court players of all time takes a little more reminding — more perhaps than just his incredible display against Novak Djokovic on Monday night.

“I was a good player on hard before six hours before,” said Nadal.

True. The Djokovic win was just the cherry on a cake that began baking even before his first round loss in Wimbledon this year. Starting with Indian Wells,all the way through Montreal and Cincinnati and finishing here in New York,20 different players haven’t beaten Nadal in 22 attempts on the bouncy blue rebound surfaces of North America. This streak (unbeaten,lest we forget) is as good as any in the Open era,especially considering that just nine months ago,the 27-year old was uncertain of ever stepping on a court again,never mind as early as 2013,due to a recurring case of severe tendinitis.

Then he came back and made 12 finals of the 13 tournaments he competed in.

But again,that’s classic Rafa. Deny him his place in history or tell him he cannot achieve all that he set out to and he will squint his eyes,puff his cheeks and make it his life’s ambition to prove you wrong. Not long after his clay-engineered technique won him two French Opens in two attempts (2005 and ’06),he was labelled a one-surface wonder.

So he bettered his serve,shortened his rallies and even approached the net. The result? Four Wimbledon finals in the next five years and three (including Queen’s) titles on grass.

Now,minutes after shutting up his hardcourt naysayers,someone asked him why he has never won the year-ending Masters and if he is really capable of modifying his game for the indoor carpet surface. Nadal knotted,unknotted and said: “That’s what I gonna try,no?”

Aditya is a principal correspondent,based in New Delhi.

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