During the US Open Fan Week (Monday-Friday prior to tournament), fans get free admissions to watch qualifiers battling out for the last 16 seats into the main draw. You also get to see huge stars like the “Big Three” practice. It’s an awesome opportunity to also size up who’s in shape, and who’s not. It doesn’t take a lot of trained eye to really notice this year that the world No. 1 wasn’t at his best on the practice court. (Later we learned that he had a left shoulder injury that forced him to bow out of the fourth round.) In 2018, he was practicing like he was playing Rafael Nadal or Roger Federer in a grand slam final.
I first noticed this new kid on the block when I stumbled upon his impersonations of Maria Sharapova, Federer and other players during a US Open in the early 2000s. Ever since I have been watching, and appreciating, his rise through the crowded men’s field, now a regular world No. 1. I am also fascinated by his story from a 6-year-old dreaming of winning his own Wimbledon title to having to constantly hide from bombings in Belgrade through his childhood to thrusting himself into the greatest triangular rivalry in men’s tennis. Granted, Federer will remain the most beloved tennis player for quite some time. Yet the Serbian underdog-turned overachiever is no doubt one of the greatest success stories in the history of the sport. Not only does he have the talent and tenacity to raise his game to GOAT heights, he also has incredible mental strength to stare down his toughest opponents and win epic battles. (Think his five-set Wimbledon final just a couple of months ago when he saved two match points on Federer’s serve and eventually triumphed in a Centre Court filled with fans rooting for the Swiss.)
We are all lucky to be living in the most exciting time in tennis. When Federer eventually hangs up his racquet, we will still probably be watching Djokovic and Nadal for quite a few years in their own grand slam titles race. They will likely both make history by beating Federer on the number of majors. But what’s more important is that they will inspire a whole new generation with their signature work ethics and humility. For each of them to be able to rise out of the Federer shadow is a greatest trophy by and in itself.
Also worth reading:
Grounded, gutsy, great: Rafael Nadal the respecter on USOpen.org
The idea, of course, was to keep Rafa’s feet firmly planted on terra firma (on terre battue, too, for that matter); to keep him humble. Aside from orchestrating the bullish baseliner’s righty-to-lefty transformation, it may just be Toni’s most important contribution to Nadal’s title-filled career: humility as a weapon.
Latest update on Sept. 17, 2019