At the risk of being crucified by millions of Rafa’s fans all over the world, I’ll admit I’m indifferent to the man. I don’t really need to elaborate on his remarkable achievements, everyone who’s a true blue Rafa fan will know the statistics in their sleep.
I’ll be honest and I’ll tell you why I don’t like Rafa. There’s no rocket science to it. It’s not about his bullet-speed top spin forehands, his ability to run for miles, his grimace, his crazy routine of digging into his anal crack to perhaps get his stuck underwear out, his brushing of his left eyebrow, his pulling of his nose and finally taking his stance to serve, his entire demeanour like his life depended on it, or his legendary softness and gentleness or his apparently amazing humility and his fighting spirit and blah blah blah. Yup. None of that matters. For me, he’s the guy who dethroned my favourite player, Roger Federer. And I take that personally.
It doesn’t matter about the GOAT debate (Greatest Of All Time) that media loves to rake up. It doesn’t matter that Federer may not have won all these titles if Djokovic or Rafael Nadal had been around 5 years earlier than when they hit the scene and started making their mark on clay, hard court or grass. It doesn’t matter that Rafa has won an incredible 9 times on clay, most any human being has ever won in the open era, which means in almost a hundred years. Wow, when I say it like that it does sound stupendous. Add to that Rafa comes from a humble background, his uncle Toni, his parents separating, the way he speaks to his sister every day wherever he is, how paeans of praise have been written about how he is the true role model and his amazing ability to bear pain and play and so on and on and on makes him sound like Thor or some Nordic SuperGod.
No, none of that matters to me. I don’t like him. I cheer when he’s out. I feel delirious with joy that he loses. I sat up almost half the night reading everything about his loss to Novak Djokovic when he lost yesterday in the Quarter finals of the French Open. I felt so good when there were headlines such as “thrashing” “demolition” etc.
Yes, I was and am my meanest most darkest when Federer loses and Rafa wins, not necessarily against each other, even more so if that is the case. I think that mean dark side lives in all of us right? But as I thought more about this streak, I realised that our sporting heroes:
Represent us – when we like an athlete, they are for us, who we’d like to be. Strong, resilient, fast, mentally tough, and clawing their way back from impossible situations and winning. Aah that winning feeling!
When they hold aloft a trophy, we feel we’ve won. It’s we who have somehow triumphed against odds. Yeah, ma, look, I did it! And when they lose, we feel we’ve lost. And we’ve let ourselves down. And our hopes and our dreams slowly seem to fade away. When they continue to lose, it represents our continued struggle against our very own human failings. Unable to come to terms with the challenges and the new challengers. That there’ll always be someone smarter, better, faster, more creative, genius, than the champion, who beats him at his game, is such a bitter pill to swallow. Because it perhaps means that yes, we’ll always be competing, always trying to prove our worth and always be running like a hamster on a wheel, hoping to be champions forever.
When they display human attributes of fear, disappointment, anger, arrogance, we don’t like it. We want them to be the epitome of grace under pressure, forever the humble champion mouthing sotto voce, “Oh I’m not great, it’s just luck” or “that opponent allowed me to beat him”, “oh it’s so many people who I owe my success to”,” oh I’m so grateful to have some amazing trainers”. We want them to be from humble beginnings because who doesn’t love a rags to riches story, the guy who made it against all odds. We basically want a typical story that conforms to our ideas of greatness. And if there are people who you have a grouse against and they like this champion against your favorite, well, all hell breaks loose. You want to rub every defeat of that fella, every bad word, every wrong move, every loss, in their face. You want to see them squirm and feel bad, because, hey, how dare my champ lose to yours?!
Yes, sport is the arena of life. Here every one tries to compete and do his best. Every one is fighting to raise the winner’s trophy and be declared a champion. Every one is trying to create magic and be written about perhaps in history books. Every athlete and sporting hero embraces a life of hard work, dedication, combining that with skill and talent and an “x” factor to prove his mettle. Our sporting heroes are the metaphor of our lives. That’s why we take to one sporting hero as opposed to another. Our loyalties are fierce. We want them to succeed because when they do, it’s like we ourselves have personally crested a peak.
No wonder when Rafa lost, I was actually happy. I was happy that he didn’t get his 10th crown. Because I wanted my sporting hero to achieve more than anyone else ever has and Rafa was definitely a roadblock. For some reason, Novak Djokovic doesn’t inspire so much devotion or attention or meanness. LOL! I mean, hey, he’s a supreme athlete, but for me, it’s Roger Federer or no one else. Like it was for me with John McEnroe or with Pete Sampras. I have tried to analyse why I like some players and I don’t like others. I don’t really have an easy or believable answer. Simple and short answer? I don’t know.
So well, Rafael Nadal lost to Novak Djokovic at the French Open quarterfinals of 2015. It’ll be a watershed year in his career as well as Djoker’s. I know people are writing him off. I know he’ll be back. I’ll give it to him, he does fight as if his life’s breath wouldn’t come easy if he didn’t. But hey Rafa fans, know that when your sporting hero’s achievements get marred by the slow decline, it hurts. You hope against hope. You wait for the legs to run faster, you wait for the sting in that forehand that used to be so fierce, you start counting the wins on the fingers of one hand as opposed to reeling them off like marbles on a slope, you wait to see that fire in his eyes again and then one day it’s all over. It’s time to cast your eyes on another sporting hero who can bear your burden. Yup, being down and out ain’t easy for no one. But in every human being’s life it’s inevitable. But it’s not forever. So we all live to fight another day. C’est la vie!