Okay, so I really love tennis. I love to watch it, and I love to play it. I love the endurance aspect of it and the mental toughness it demands.
My love affair with tennis started in The Bahamas nearly 18 years ago. I fully credit my initial love of the game to my legend of a coach, Danny Rigby. If not for him, I likely would never have stuck with it. It’s a hard game to learn and the learning curve is steep. But due to Danny’s persistence and badgering smack talk – I stuck with it. After a year of steady coaching, I was playing local tournaments and dishing the smack back to Danny. As Bahamians say:
“I reach, and I could hang”.
People actually wanted to play with me and the world of tennis opened up.
This was also about the same time Nadal, Federer, Djokovic, and Murray entered the scene. They were babies, some barely 18, and aggressive as hell. They methodically bumped out the “old guard” – Hewitt, Agassi, Ferrero, Moya, etc. And essentially changed the dynamic of tennis.
Through the years; I’ve been lucky enough to see the big hitters play live multiple times, and even met a few of them. Like other tennis fans, I’ve watched them grow up from young hot-headed punks to World-class Champions – with the exception of maybe Djokovic (he’s still a punk).
You might be surprised to hear that Andy Murray is actually a decent guy. Or at least he was when he recruited me for fashion advice in a hotel lobby. True story.
But you would never be surprised to hear that Nadal is as sweet as he acts and looks. The dude just oozes goodness. My first interaction with Rafa was back in 2006. I was heavily pregnant with my second son and happened to see him in a Toronto restaurant. The restaurant was virtually empty except for us, and Rafa and his entourage. Much to the mortification of my table, as we were leaving, I waved over to him and said: “Hola Rafa”.
Hey! Like, I said – very pregnant, and possibly a bit bored – everyone but me was drinking! Nadal stared at me with a funny look – like trying to discern if he knew me, or if I was crazy. Then taking in my ginormous pregnant belly, and realizing he definitely did not know me, but that I was likely harmless. He smiled widely, waved, and shouted back:
Awww, the dude had me at Hola Mama! A soft spot for him was cemented in my heart from that night on.
Over the years, I flip-flopped my loyalty between Nadal & Federer. But Nadal always edged over Federer. Federer is a class act and true poetry in motion on the court. But he doesn’t have the raw vulnerability of Nadal with all his tics and superstitious habits. Rafa is a bull (toro) that leaves it all out there. Heart on his sleeve and soul exposed. Also, I’ve seen them both hitting on the practice courts before a tournament. Long after Federer has left the court, Nadal is still there signing hats and balls for the fans.
Fast forward to the Aussie Open 2022. I thought my heart was going to burst when Rafa sealed his 21st Grand Slam Title. But I must come clean – I didn’t watch the whole five sets. After Nadal lost the first two, I had to walk away. To watch him lose in three straight sets might’ve broken my heart. Seriously. I wanted him to win that badly. Thankfully, my husband called me from Dubai to say:
“Get your ass back to a TV. They’re going to five!”
See here’s the thing – Rafa is essentially playing with a broken foot. Not technically. But he has an incurable foot issue that he’s been battling since 2005. I broke a tiny bone in my foot in 2020. There is no way in hell I could have played tennis. The pain is substantial. Only a month ago, it was looking unlikely he could play in Australia. He also reportedly had a bout of Covid in December. With his age and injuries, plus the chronic pain keeping him from proper training this last year – the odds were well stacked against him.
His first break came at the beginning of the tournament when Novax Djokovic got deported. Had he not been turfed from Australia – not sure if today would’ve had the same players or outcome. The big three (Djokovic, Federer & Nadal), all were tied with 20 Grand Slam Titles. The big race for the 21st Title was looking like a sure thing for Djokovic. Federer (at 40, total legendary GOAT) is out with a knee injury and Nadal had been debating retirement. Big shoutout to Djokovic for taking himself out of the running.
It would have been cool to have all of the “big three” in the Aussie Open. Because it’s all about what makes for a good tournament and for the best matches. But, sadly, the guard is once again changing in tennis. Which made this win even sweeter for Nadal. Even with his grit and his otherworldly ability to keep grinding – the match was 5.5 hours long today, and it’s summer in Aus – Rafa is still a mere mortal and won’t be able to play forever. Although it didn’t appear that way today! The new kids on the block play phenomenally and will eventually set new records, but they have a lot of work to do. The bar has been set exponentially high.
Today, the nice guy didn’t finish last. Yeah! It was a great ending to a tournament with a dicey start. There were the great highs (Ash Bardy & Rafa Nadal for the wins). And there were some punk-ass moments – Shapo accusing the ref of nepotism (re: Nadal), Medvedev yelling at the ref, and storming off the court in the semis, and Krygios stealing Bardy’s thunder by downplaying her win in favor of his own. The new set has a bit to learn about what it means to be a champion, and how to carry yourself like one.
The congratulatory tweet from Federer to Nadal, summed up what it means to be a competitor, an athlete, friend, and a class act champion:
“Never underestimate a great champion, Your incredible work ethic, dedication and fighting spirit are an inspiration to me and countless others around the world. I am proud to share this era with you and honoured to play a role in pushing you to achieve more, As you have done for me for the past 18 years. I am sure you have more achievements ahead but for now enjoy this one!”
Djokovic also sent a tweet, it kind’ve missed the mark.
I’d like to end this post with a massive thanks to my original tennis legend, Danny Rigby, for sticking with me all those years ago and teaching me to love tennis. I can’t wait to hit with him again – hopefully someday soon. There is so much smack talk to catch up on. ❤️
As always, thanks for reading.