What an amazing final it was. I know it wasn’t such an epic on court. More of a drama of sorts but as a culmination of an amazing path to glory it was a real feat of Tennis.
Stan swept past three Top 10 players to clinch the trophy. Beating the No. 1 and 2 players in the world. En route he overcame the reigning champion of three years and swept aside a former champion in the final. He weathered the extreme heat and changeable conditions like everyone else but he managed to do all this without getting injured. Still standing and strutting until the end.
What I had forgotten was that I was at their last match at the World Tour Finals. I know exactly what it is like to see both men in full flight. I can appreciate just what Stan has achieved and how he did it.
I had been wondering over Christmas just how close Stan had come to the Top 4. I had completely forgotten the score line at the O2. Had I not then I really would have favoured Stan much more given his consistent progress during 2013.
The seeds were there in the Millennium Dome. Stan pushed Rafa as hard as he possibly could without winning a set, with the score being 7-6(5), 7-6(6) to Rafa. It truly was one of those results where the score does not reflect the story of the match. Stan broke Rafa twice. At times he literally owned him. You could see he was starting to realise that the very top players like Rafa actually fear him because their strength plays into his strength.
Rafa particularly likes to get the ball high to an opponent through his spin. That troubles most people but not Stan. That is just where he wants it. Put it high to his backhand and he couldn’t thank you enough. You’ve served him his favourite opportunity on a platter.
Stan doesn’t need to run around his backhand like his colleagues in the Top 10. He loves a chance to express his creative skills with his beautifully-crafted technique. He just steps up to it and releases his aggression through the ball, trusting his well-honed technique. The rest is just a blur.
So from this spectacular experience in London I can testify to how big Stan hits. Only Berdych rivals him in the Top 8 for pure power. They’re both just powerhouses. The type that have had wins against Rafa his whole career. It is only now that they are both realising just what this could mean for them in their best years.
So the result on Sunday wasn’t as much as a surprise to those who have seen Stan play, particularly those who still remembered last year’s match against Novak. He pushed the eventual winner of this trophy right to the wire. If he had won the match then a route to the final was open. This time he did and it was. So let us see where this leads.
Nadal still impressed me and I think won many new followers. Clearly injured he pressed on. I’ve always wondered what is best in this case. Should he just surrender and proclaim Stan champion? Does he have that right? I’ve read many of the debates with the issue getting cloudier and more complex instead of clearer.
Though now, if Tennis is to proclaim itself a profession then I like to draw parallels from other professions to gain some perspective. If a chief executive were struggling during negotiations with a migraine, severe back trouble or whatever, then they would take painkillers or anything prescribed to get through. Taking a rest some other time. Peoples’ jobs and the future of the company are at stake. What is the difference here with a tennis player?
This of course isn’t an answer; it’s more a question. Yet it simply places each player as CEO of their brand providing a performance for their company on the biggest stage possible. The fans have played their part, paying their money and making their own sacrifices to be there. They have a right to see the match they paid for.
That is what made Nadal’s effort respectful. He gave all he could. Enough to win a set, in fact. He gave the crowd and his opponent the best of himself. Getting on with his job and doing it as best he could.
I learnt a lot more about Rafa from this match and I liked it. I still don’t know what is best when a player is injured, but I am learning that the show must go on. Rafa didn’t steal the limelight and showed deep respect throughout, by treating others as he would like to be treated. He was professional.
On his worst days as much as on his best he is a professional to admire. He, and the band of brothers he tours the globe with on this Tennis tour, are bringing an impressive breed of professionalism to the tour. As a professional myself it’s nice to see.
A truly exciting time for the tour. An exceptional start to 2014.
Cover Photo (Creative Commons License): Marianne Bevis