Great sporting achievements are to be enjoyed and to feel privileged. They are living history. They will be remembered for decades, perhaps even centuries, with contemporary documentary support. Watching it live and direct should be considered an honor, especially if they occur in circumstances such as those faced by Rafael Nadal before the Australian Open, who now has 21 Grand Slams to his name.
Rafael Nadal, only months ago, was on crutches, debating, at the age of 35, whether he would play tennis again or not. Those of us who doubted were deluded. With his usual resilience, the Spaniard not only returned to compete at his best, but once again won a tournament coming from behind. He came back to life after being two sets down, and lifted a triple break opportunity in the third set that would have practically sentenced the final in favor of his huge opponent, Daniil Medvedev.
Because yes, Nadal’s triumph was not only an internal struggle against the physical demons that tormented him in the months prior to the Australian Open, but against a magnificent tennis player, an exemplary rival. Daniil not only dominated and imposed conditions in the first two sets, but he also showed a stunning superiority and made it clear that he has a brilliant career ahead if his head and physique allow it.
The Russian was remarkable not only with the wind at his back, but with the tide against him, because once Nadal overcame that triple break chance, a tsunami came over him. Few athletes have the ability to come back like the Spaniard and the Russian was more than up to the task. In the fifth and final set, Daniil came within a whisker of taking the match, pushing the Spaniard to the limit on his serve and serving with the match 5-5. He lacked centimeters to hold his serve and force Rafael to serve to command the tie break. It was a historic battle.
Here is where we must address the public issue. The support for Nadal, as it has happened with Federer, is normal and logical; they are heroes for tennis fans and earned their support, but what is not correct is the contempt for the rival; and the Russian was treated as a villain by the public during a good part of the tournament. Booing, celebrations of unforced errors and a hostile climate even in statements after great tennis exhibitions, unnecessary and disrespectful treatment.
It is only necessary to listen to Medvedev’s words in a press conference to realize that he did not have a good time during the tournament. It is true, he had reprehensible attitudes, but who has not been wrong at some time? We have to get rid of the chip that the athlete is a perfect robot who must not only perform athletically but also show himself to be flawless so that this society, vigilant of the error, does not attack without compassion.
Those who decided to take a stand against Medvedev should take an example from the camaraderie of Djokovic and Federer. Tennis is not soccer or basketball, where the public plays a determining role, most tennis players are not accustomed to situations like those experienced by Medvedev yesterday against Nadal. Not all are or have the head of Novak Djokovic, who to have a successful career had to create a shield to withstand the adversity of the public.
Of course, talking about this does not detract from the feat of Nadal, who certainly takes a tournament that will be remembered not only for his title, but also for the Djokovic case and his unjust expulsion from Australia, whose asterisk will continue to contribute to the eternal debate about who is the GOAT of individual sport par excellence.
Today the numbers belong to the Spaniard, but, as I asked in the first lines, let’s not become stubborn militants of statistics. Sport can be measured in numbers, but hundreds of other imponderables that, objectively, have greater importance are valued. Merit, talent, technique, head or transcendence, the debate about the GOAT cannot be reduced to numbers. Nadal, Federer and Djokovic deserve more than that.