First things first: Rafael Nadal’s victory was, by no means, as straightforward as the scoreline suggests. His ferocious forehand winners were few and far between, and he rode on Novak Djokovic’s 53 unforced errors. It wasn’t smooth sailing, and Djoko may well have won his second major of the year.
And yet there was one thing that made the Spaniard the clear favourite, an element that was lost on Nadal not too long ago.
Certainty of his game, his body and above all, his mind.
Even as he watched last year’s US Open from the confines of his living room, he was unsure about his future in a sport he had made his life. He overcame the phase with immense grit, but his return after seven months was far from compelling. The path to his record eighth French Open title was jittery, and he clinched it in a hard-fought, nervous five-set semifinal against the same opponent, but on a court he has made his den. The final, against David Ferrer, was a cakewalk.
The insecurity reached its peak again after his first-round Wimbledon exit. He was back home in Mallorca, with the axe of uncertainty hanging over his head not for the first time. Would he ever win a Grand Slam again with that troubled knee?
Nadal’s mind works in mysterious ways, one that is oblivious to all doubts and negativity. He looked recharged, more aggressive, ready to win, ‘certain’ to win. He won everything that came his way on unforgiving hard courts, mind you before the US Open, and demolished all kinds of players to reach the final. Determined. Check.
And even though his forehand winners eluded him against Djokovic, he unleashed his weakest of weapons – the serve and volley – to get out of jail. It wasn’t coincidence that he fired an ace his only one of the evening – to save one of the triple break points in the third set. Confident. Check.
He wanted to win this real bad, and throw that axe away once and for all. No more weak service, no more a partially torn patella tendon leaving him with doubts over his existence in tennis. It was clear.
So now the big question – how far can he go? Is Roger Federer’s 17 a real possibility?
Wimbledon champion Andy Murray said after his loss that it takes time to fire oneself up and get back to training after achieving something one has worked so hard for. A day after beating Djokovic in the 2010 US Open and completing a ‘Career Slam, Nadal was back to optimum training with Uncle Toni on the courts of Mallorca. It might well be the case this time around.
Rafa wants more, he always does. He’ll strain every muscle in his body to bridge the gap between 13 and 17, between greatness and eternal greatness.
Be absolutely certain.