Rafael Nadal, “The Soldier of Clay,” continued his relentless march towards Paris and the French Open this morning by dispatching the world’s number one player, Novak Djokovic, in straight sets to win the BNL d’Italia tournament in Rome. That marks the sixth time he’s won that event.
Djokovic was the defending champion.
In this 2012 clay court season, Nadal has been, with the exception of the debacle on the dreaded blue clay in Madrid, unbeatable.
He marched through the draw of 64 in Monte Carlo to take the title without dropping a set. That established an unprecedented eighth consecutive Monte Carlo championship for “the soldier.” Djokovic was his final opponent there as well.
Nadal’s march continued through the draw of the Barcelona Open, again without dropping a set to win his eighth title there also.
Emphatically, no man in the open era has been as dominant on “the dirt” as has been Rafael Nadal. Considering his age and his consistent ability to prove his detractors wrong, it’s difficult to imagine a player ever duplicating or surpassing his accomplishments on clay.
If Nadal wins the 2012 French Open, he would eclipse Bjorn Borg’s six wins at Roland Garros. The thought of it is mind boggling.
As I’ve noted in previous posts, Nadal is still improving. He has an exceptional ability for making continual adjustments to his game. There is far more substance to him than simply a “brute force” player. Over the years, pundits have attempted to pin that label on him. They’ve failed.
“The soldier” defies their labeling.
Nadal’s sense of family, strength of mind and character, willingness to work hard and then even harder is key to his ongoing success. His inherent humility keeps him grounded.
Tennis is fortunate at this point in time to have slam winners Nadal, Djokovic, Federer and del Potro competeing at the highest level while serving as ambassadors for our sport. They all conduct themselves in exemplary fashion.
Of no less importance are Isner, Murray, Ferrer, Berdych, Tsonga and a host of others that could conceivably break through to become top tier winners as well.
I wouldn’t question the work ethic of any of these players. However, their belief, well that’s another matter.
None match the steely resolve of “the soldier.”
How else could a player, having been bested in seven final appearances by the same rival continue to believe, continue to work, to compete, and ultimately to prevail.
Nadal is hell bent on emerging from all battles victorious. And though that may not always be the outcome, he’s neither discouraged nor intimidated by defeat because he is not a defeatist.
He’s unwavering in his commitment to continue improving.
He’s amazingly relentless in his approach to a tennis match. To Rafa, every point is life or death.
He is not just a tennis player.
He’s a soldier, and “the soldier” is marching, marching straight towards Paris, straight towards the title at Roland Garros.
Regardless of the outcome, Rafa will give 100% effort for 100% of the time.
This I know.