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Thank you, Rafael Nadal

By: Chris Andreou

I write this after a long, deep, and much-needed nap on Sunday afternoon. This is because I have spent the last week staying up very late on work nights and now by a 4:00 AM wake up call on Sunday morning to watch tennis legend Rafael Nadal make his way through the Australian Open to win his record-setting 21st Grand Slam. Given the time difference between Toronto and Melbourne, the Australian Open has always been the most difficult Slam for me to watch and I’ll usually check scores in the morning or hope to catch an epic 5-setter that is still going when I wake up. But this year’s iteration felt different. It had been a difficult year cut short by injuries, leading to questioning whether he’d even be able to continue his career. When 35 year old Rafa showed up in Australia this year, I felt like this could be one of the last opportunities to watch him down under. Thus, a week of very little sleep and several nerve wracking moments.

If you couldn’t already tell by my dedication to watch tennis into the wee hours of the morning, Rafael Nadal is my favourite athlete of all time. My father and I have spent the last 17 plus years watching his incredible career unfold. We were there for the epic victories and also the crushing defeats. Based on his work ethic and fight, plus multiple injuries keeping him out for long periods, we have always believed he was the greatest of all time. Now after setting the Grand Slam record and winning each Slam twice, there is no doubt. But this is not another article debating who the GOAT is. This is an expression of sincere gratitude towards such an inspirational man.

Rafael Nadal is a case study on what can be achieved through passion, a commitment to hard work, and an unwavering belief in yourself. Admittedly, I did not have high hopes heading into this year’s tournament. As mentioned, Rafa was returning from a lengthy injury delay, and would be facing off against young stars keen on finally ushering in a new generation of champions. But as he won match after match, I dared to hope that he would be able to capture a title in a place that has given him so many heartbreaks since his last victory in 2009. Doubt seems to be intrinsic to Nadal fans, who have been accustomed to living in the shadow of Roger Federer and being challenged by Novak Djokovic. But once again he silenced these doubts, just as he has done for his entire career. For anyone who doesn’t watch tennis or even just casually follows, Nadal has been counted out several times throughout his career. Injuries, wear and tear due to his unrelenting playing style, and just a falling level of play, have all been cited at points calling for his end. And you can’t blame them. The injury scares were very real, and even Nadal himself considered hanging it up on multiple occasions. But each time, Nadal recomposed himself, and driven by his passion for the game, worked harder than ever to return and compete.

Nadal’s skill level is undoubtedly special, but what sets him apart is his iron will and never give up attitude. This is what separates champions from others. This final match demonstrated this special characteristic in glorious fashion. Down two sets to none, Nadal stormed back to force a fifth set, and was serving for the match. But things did not go his way, and he lost his serve in the most important moment. Instead of dwelling on the lost opportunity, Nadal put it behind him and refocused on the task at hand. He broke right back and on his second chance serving for the match, he won it. Lesser athletes would have been utterly crushed by blowing the chance and would only unravel further. I am continually in awe at his ability to do this, and feel terrible for the doubts that still appear in my mind when things start looking bad.

I am usually at my worst when I allow self-doubt and negative thinking to become too entrenched. But because of my years of watching this special man and athlete, I have been able to right myself in tough times after thinking about how he would approach such situations. Mental fortitude is paramount in all we do, and Nadal continually reminds me of that when I may forget. I am incredibly grateful to have been able to watch this Golden Age of tennis and equally grateful that such an inspirational champion exists to push me to be better. So congrats to Rafael Nadal on your 21st Grand Slam title, and thank you for what you have done to inspire millions around the world to think positively, work hard, and be passionate in all we do.

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