Yes, yes I know what you’re going to say. Why devote time and space to a sports event in the midst of a pandemic that continues to ravage the health and well being of millions of people across the globe? In the midst of institutional racism, police brutality, a criminal justice system with no justice, authoritarian leaders motivated by greed and mendacity, momentous confirmation hearings for a new addition to the United States Supreme Court rushed through a sham process whose outcome is not in doubt? Crises of climate change exhibited by floods and fires that chip away whole communities in a day?
Immigrants and refugees living in subhuman conditions administered by a rogue contractor with the chilling initials of I.C.E.? And, not to be forgotten, the 140 million people living in poverty in the USA who slip through the cracks of our collective memory? Finally, the presidential campaign now in full swing again with the candidates hitting the trail heavy and hard in the remaining three weeks. Agent Orange has been healed, ramping up his rhetoric, promising to kiss everyone who isn’t wearing a mask at his rallies. Super fun? Super dangerous.
Okay, so diversion from current political events was one of the reasons for my passionate following of the French Open at Roland Garros in Paris for the past two weeks. Number two, as Joe Biden would say, is my ongoing love affair with tennis since my high school days on a tennis team with an unremarkable record. But for the past 15 years since a 19-year-old Spaniard named Rafael Nadal won his first championship trophy at the French Open in 2005, I have followed his career like a groupie for the Rolling Stones.
Two days ago on Sunday, October 11th. Nadal won his breaking all records Roland Garros Championship number 13 in the men’s singles competition. An earthshaking achievement in the sports world that gave him 20 Grand Slam titles to tie Roger Federer for the most in tennis history, Rafa’s 100th. victory on the clay courts in Paris.
Who did he beat in the finals for each of those wins? The Unlucky Losers are familiar names to tennis fans around the world: Argentine Mariano Puerta in 2005. Roger Federer in 2006, 2007, 2008. Robin Soderling in 2010 (Soderling had eliminated Nadal in the Round of 16 in 2009). Roger Federer in 2011. Novak Djokovic in 2012. David Ferrer in 2013. Novak Djokovic in 2014. Stan Wawrinka in 2017. Dominic Thiem in 2018 and 2019. Novak Djokovic in 2020.
Rafa turned 27 on June 03, 2013
( the day of his 8th. French Open title)
Seven years later at age 34 he won his 13th. title in a tournament moved from its usual summer dates to the fall as a result of the Covid pandemic, with a new kind of tennis balls that resisted his patented spin, in cold temperatures very different from those on his balmy island of Mallorca in Spain, in a new Phillippe Chatrier clay court covered by a retractable roof that was closed for the final, in a venue that holds more than 15,000 fans but was limited to 1,000 for the 2020 tournament again as a result of safety precautions for everyone who attended and participated. And yet Rafael Nadal prevailed as he had on twelve previous occasions.
Today Nadal’s home country of Spain awarded him The Grand Cross of the Royal Order of Sporting Merit which is one way of saying he is one of the greatest Spanish sports figures in their history for not only his achievements on the tennis courts but also for his humanitarian efforts away from the courts. In her presentation of the award Vice-President and Spokesperson of the Council of Ministers, Maria Jesus Montero said:
“There is little to mention about the curriculum of this outstanding person on and off the courts,” Montero said. “We are honored to convey this distinction to him not only for the undoubted sporting merits of one of the best sports in history at an international level, but also it is a pleasure to do it in a person who brings together the values of the youth referents, everything that allows us to be better. The Government makes this highly deserved sports recognition for one of our national pride, Rafael Nadal.”
I am thrilled for Nadal’s victory Sunday and was moved by his comments in the trophy presentation ceremony that he was, of course, very happy to win but that it was difficult to feel as joyful as he could have felt if the world weren’t facing the challenges of the pandemic.
His conclusion was the same one he makes in every victory speech, thank you, thank you very much…which is what I want to say to Rafa Nadal for the past fifteen years of entertainment and inspiration as a warrior on the tennis courts, a man who plays every point as if it is his last, a man who never gives up, never gives in.
Thank you, Rafa, thank you very much.
Stay safe, stay sane and please stay tuned. I have voted. VOTE.