Rafael Nadal | The Champion’s story is not over yet

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Rafael Nadal | The Champion’s story is not over yet

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Amogh Jain

08/30/2016

Every champion has to face the test of time. Rafael Nadal had a tough last year, winning only three singles titles. Questions began to rise about Rafa’s physical vulnerability, and more so about his mental vulnerability. Was Rafa ever going to come back and play the way he used to?

Watching Rafael Nadal play is the most inspiring act you will ever see. The way he throws the ball up in the air and how his face suddenly changes from that of an incompetent kid to a 14-time Grand Slam champion is electrifying. His fans get goosebumps when Rafa rushes across the court and thumps the ball with fierce power and aggression. His grunting sets every tennis fans’ heart racing. You can feel the blood rushing through your veins when this warrior is on court conquering new territories. The matador from Spain is an idol for many.

But every champion has to face the test of time. Rafael Nadal had a tough last year, winning only three singles titles and none of them at the Master’s 1000 level or above. It also saw him fall out of the top 5 ranking for the first time in 10 years. More strikingly the King’s streak of 39 consecutive wins at the French Open was snapped by Novak Djokovic. Questions began to rise about Rafa’s physical vulnerability, and more so about his mental vulnerability. Was Rafa ever going to come back and play the way he used to?

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The answer is Yes. Champions are never down and out. It is when you make the mistake of counting them out that they strike the hardest. Rafael Nadal is an Olympic Gold medalist yet again. His performance at the Rio Olympics brought back the memories of vintage Rafa for many of his fans. The never die spirit of the Spaniard, and that fire to win at any cost could be seen in his eyes. Even when his wrist was not completely healed, Rafa made his way to the final in doubles and the semi-final in singles. He lost in singles, but grabbed the Gold medal for his country in the doubles.

It can be said now with conviction that the Spaniard is here to stay. The story is not over yet, and a few more pages are yet to be written. The world number 5 will now aim for his much deserving place in the top 3. The Spaniard will be aiming for another victorious run at the place where he became the youngest player to achieve a career Grand Slam - the US Open.

How Rafael Nadal can win the title at Flushing Meadows?

Rafa started his campaign at the US Open yesterday with an easy first round win over Uzbekistan’s Denis Istomin. After missing the Wimbledon, the final Grand Slam of the year was Rafa’s chance to announce his comeback and he did it emphatically by finishing off his opponent 6-1, 6-4, 6-2. In the second round, Rafa will face Andreas Seppi of Italy. Seppi is always a tricky opponent to play against as his eccentric style of play is difficult to adjust to. Having said that, Rafa seems to have cracked the Seppi mystery as he has not dropped a set against the Italian since 2008 Rotterdam Open, and has won seven of the eight matches the two have contested against each other.

In the third round, Rafa is likely to face fellow Spaniard Albert Ramos Vinolas. Ramos has lost four of his last five matches and seven of his last ten against Rafa. It seems very unlikely that Ramos will cause much trouble to Rafa. Rafael Nadal should make his way to the fourth round to potentially face 22-year-old Lucas Pouille. Pouille is the 24th seed at the US Open, and has performed well in the recent tournaments. He reached the quarter-finals at Wimbledon and semifinals at Rome Masters. The Frenchman is likely to stretch Rafa to four sets, but with Rafa back to his best, it seems highly unlikely that Pouille will emerge as the winner.

It will start heating up from this stage onwards as Rafa will potentially face Milos Raonic in the quarter-finals. Raonic’s big serve and his serve and volley approach have caused trouble to many top players on tour and Rafa could become the latest entry to the list. Raonic has been in top form. He played scintillating tennis to reach the finals of the Wimbledon. At Canadian masters, he could have probably done better, but a quarter-final showing is not bad either. A semi-final appearance at Cincinnati Masters only helped Raonic gain more confidence. But Rafa’s return game is likely to triumph over Raonic’s serves with the Spaniard hell-bent on winning the US Open. He knows his age is catching up with him, and he wants to win as much as he can as soon as possible. Rafa’s burning desire to win will be the deciding factor in this match.

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In the semi-final, Rafa is likely to face the biggest test with World No.1 and top seed Novak Djokovic also on the same side of the draw. The Serbian leads the head-to-head record between the two, and has won nine of the last 10 meetings. But, Djokovic has been in a poor run of late and has been suffering from an injury in his arm. The reigning champion also had a tough first round match against Jerzy Janowicz of Poland. This will be the best chance for Rafa to get past the World No.1. If Rafa does overcome that hurdle he will face off against the World No.2 and Olympic Champion Andy Murray. Andy Murray has shown no signs of slowing down this year. The Scot has been in the finals of all three Grand Slams this year, and won one of them as he clinched the title at the hallowed grounds of Wimbledon. This will be a very competitive match, and the man with the will to win will be crowned as the champion.

A win at US Open for Rafa will be one of the most inspiring stories in tennis. The Spaniard might be coming to the end of his career, but he sure has one more big fight left in him and the US Open could very well be the start of it.  

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