Tuesday, 2 November 2010

September Player of The Month

What would you deem a successful accomplishment for a 24-year-old?

Completing a masters degree with honors? Moving up the corporate ladder within a year of being hired? How about owning a few condos, while saving up for an early retirement?

While these and other well-deserved accomplishments have been met by hundreds of thousands of young adults around the globe, very few will ever lay claim to what Rafael Nadal achieved at this year's US Open.
Closing the door on his Grand Slam collection in New York City, Nadal became the seventh man in history to win all four Major championships, and the youngest in the Open era.

Capturing the Olympic gold medal in 2008, two Davis Cup titles for his native Spain, and 18 Masters 1000 trophies, the island-born Mallorcan could be headed toward an untouchable resume.

Remaining humble throughout his 10 years on Tour, Nadal has always lived and died by the motto of self-improvement. Never one to take an opponent lightly, Nadal's two hard-court Majors in Flushing Meadows and Melbourne Park were perhaps his two toughest victories.

Arriving Down Under in 2009, Nadal was by no means the favorite. Roger Federer and Andy Murray were the superior asphalt contenders, and Novak Djokovic had a lot on the line as the defending champ. However, with his head down, and an explosive will behind his sails, Nadal gutted out a riveting semifinal victory over Fernando Verdasco, only to outshine those efforts in the finals with a five-set win over Federer. Shedding his label as a slow-court specialist, Nadal had banked three of the four Majors with the US Open hot on his radar.

Injuring his knees while battling through the divorce of his parents in the spring of '09, Nadal was forced to skip the defense of his Wimbledon title, and later suffered a blowout defeat to Juan Martin del Potro in New York. Although del Potro poured in a whale of an effort to take home his first Slam title, Nadal's abdominal tear prevented him from competing at his best.

The prognosis for Nadal's body would not improve throughout the early stages of 2010. Landing in Australia with an outside chance of defending his title, the Spaniard was forced to withdraw in the quarterfinals with further knee pain. Andy Murray's delectable play would've been tough to defeat under normal circumstances, but with Nadal's tendinitis an ongoing issue, his chances of survival were next to impossible.

Regrouping from his injuries with a month off in February, Nadal returned in March to record competent semifinal finishes at Indian Wells and Miami. Although his dominant 2008 form was far from present, his tenacity and wherewithal on court appeared ready to rise. Admitting after his loss to Andy Roddick in Florida that if he continued to reach the semifinals of Tour events good things would happen, Nadal ended eight months of hard-court action, and set his sights on his home-bred clay surface.

Capturing the Monte Carlo title for the sixth straight time, Nadal began an unstoppable tear on the dirt, which included losing only two sets on his way to his fifth crown at Roland Garros. What started off as a bleak and potentially catastrophic year was now shaping into a season that he would soon not forget.

Racking up his second Wimbledon title in July, Nadal encountered a worrisome summer before entering the Big Apple. Falling in uncharacteristically meek fashion in both Toronto and Cincinnati, Nadal took some much-needed inspiration from his Uncle Toni and golf legend Jack Nicklaus ahead of his New York campaign. Adjusting his hand to a slightly more continental grip on his serve, Nadal began to produce missiles in the 130-mph range.

Picking apart opponent after opponent toward his first final, Nadal backed off from the sheer pace of his serve throughout the latter stages of the event, opting to slice his delivery out wide, while controlling the tempo with his forehand.

Watching Nadal through the early part of the US Open, I couldn't help but think back to Andre Agassi's march at the 1995 Wimbledon Championships. Arriving at the All England Club in a do-rag and carrying a yellow racket, Agassi began to hammer his serve through the first few rounds, while blazing his return-of-serve past puzzled opponents.

I vividly recall John McEnroe claiming that if Agassi could continue to serve as big as he was, then the tournament committee could save everyone some time and hand the American the trophy after the opening round. The principle around McEnroe's claim was based on the addition of a point-ending serve, which was coupled by Agassi's groundstrokes. Striking arguably the cleanest forehand and backhand of his time, Agassi had become almost unbeatable with a bigger serve.

However, unlike Nadal, Agassi's luck would run out in the semifinals against a trigger-happy and opportunistic Boris Becker. While Agassi stepped off the pedal against the German during his five-set loss, Nadal continued to steamroll through his semifinal opponent Mikhail Youzhny on Super Saturday.

The rain would stall Nadal's first final by one day, but the result of his focused efforts would be met with a four-set victory over Djokovic on Monday. Hugging the baseline with his two-handed backhand, Nadal's net play and first-strike approach would allow him to fall to the ground by the late evening.

Embracing his victory with his box of supporters, Nadal shared his joy with the assembled media after his victory.

"You know, I still 24. I have, I know, for me, it's a dream have the career Grand Slam, but this is more dream have the US Open," admitted Nadal. "Is some moments unbelievable feeling because I worked a lot all my life, in all difficult moments to be here, but I never imagined have the four Grand Slams."

Honoring his commitments to his fall calender in Asia and Europe, Nadal's year may be entering an anticlimax, but his memorable finish to a troublesome beginning will be remembered for quite sometime.

There's no telling what the future will hold for the current world No. 1, but with a potential "Rafa-Slam" on the horizon in Australia, the remainder of Nadal's career appears as bright as ever.

Courtesy: Bleacher Report

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