Yesterday’s final was one of the most important matches of Rafael’s sports career. If not the most. In that match he bowed in his favor, until Roger Federer or Novak Djokovic say otherwise, the tiebreaker for the leadership in the history of tennis. As happened to the Serbian in the last US Open, I think that the nerves of such a crucial match made my nephew too tense in the early stages against Medvedev. During the first round and well into the second set, his shots were cramped and it was impossible for him to display the good game he had been doing in his previous rounds.
During all that time he had a very low first serve percentage, his forehand didn’t hurt and the backhand, which had worked perfectly the previous round, wasn’t offensive enough. His percentage of errors was also well above what is usual for him. And hence the clear victory in this part of the Muscovite player, who was far superior to Rafael. Despite managing to level the game in the second set and having many options to win it, he ended up giving it up in the tie break and for getting into very serious trouble.
Throughout the last week I kept high hopes that Rafael would get the title, and I had said so on several occasions to my children, who always press me with the same question, but at that moment I felt that our options had practically disappeared. Bearing in mind everything that has happened in the last half year, and that has already been mentioned enough, one of my biggest fears was that the meeting would take longer than expected. And that’s when my nephew surprised me again for a number of times I’ve already lost count. The further we were from victory, with two sets to love and 3-3, 0-40 in the third, again I admired his self-control, his unwavering belief in victory, his fighting ability and his tenacity.
I have never liked to speak publicly and more on the account of a family member, much less praise him. However, today I have a hard time not doing it. Rarely have I seen such a titanic fight and such an epic match. Being the fact of winning the largest number of Grand Slams in history a highly remarkable event in itself, what I would highlight the most are the adverse conditions that he has managed to overcome to achieve it.
I have seen on Instagram a commemorative video of the ATP Tour of those 21 titles in which, curiously, the first image was that of Rafael as a child in a match that, moreover, I remember perfectly. He played against a rival much older than him and, therefore, much superior. He fell clearly defeated and, however, I have seen in that video the same fighting and passionate look that he was recovering in the most adverse moments of the final. That fight does not guarantee victory, in fact it has not always been like that, but it ensures personal satisfaction and the peace of mind of knowing that you fulfilled your commitment.
On one occasion, a former tennis player told me that he regretted not having fought every game of his career one hundred percent and regretted that he realized that too late. When I told Rafael about it, trying to get him to learn the lesson, he replied: “Don’t worry, that’s not going to happen to me. When I retire, I will leave with the peace of mind of having done everything in my power”. And what happened at the Rod Laver Arena was one more demonstration of it. I think that feat transcends sporting merit. It is, rather, a good proof of what gives meaning and merit to Rafael’s career.
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