Rafael Nadal, the true champion

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Rafael Nadal, the true champion

Take 11 Slams, of which 7 were won in front of the public of the Philippe Chatrier. Take 51 titles, of which 37 were conquered on clay. Take the triumph of 81 matches won in a row, again on clay. One wonders what more the man can do on his favorite surface.

After his injury last year, many were expecting him to leave the scene like Borg, but the truth is that the Spaniard is just getting started.

Rafa didn’t disappoint us at all. Despite the stratospheric numbers mentioned before, he doesn't fear playing in tournaments he doesn’t really belong at. With great humility, Nadal decided to re-start his career in Vina del Mar, Sao Paolo and Acapulco, tournaments that he would previously have won blindfolded.

Each challenge was for him a battle in his first tournament back, more against himself than his opponents. Horacio Zeballos became, to his great surprise, the only person other than Djokovic and Federer to beat Nadal in a final on clay.

After the loss, the apocalyptic comments came thick and fast. But for him, nothing was lost. His schedule immediately offered him the chance to take a revenge in Sao Paolo, and this time he didn’t faile. Working hard in the semi-final and beating an exhausted Nalbandian in final, the smile came back to Rafa.

Happy and humble, he seemed more pleased with the tiny title than he has for years. .

He cried tears - human tears - that have nothing to do with the winning machine that we are used to seeing. Tears of joy because now, Rafa has to play each tournament with the same enthusiasm.

“Like it was Roland Garros”, it doesn’t matter if it’s a 250, a 500 or a 1000.

Rafael Nadal is more and more comparable to the mythological phoenix, able to rise again from the ashes: he knew how to reinvent himself after a disastrous 2009, lifting up 3 out of 4 Slams, taking back the sceptre of Paris with his personal revenge on Soderling; he knew how to eliminate the Djokovic curse in 2012 after the nightmare of 2011; and now he is ready to defy the odds once again.

It’s obvious that his game is not at the same level it once was, but he is getting better every day - which is good news for us, and bad news for his opponents.