The Gospel of Rafael Nadal: Humanity Needs a Bit of Calm

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Bill Simons

Indian Wells

COULD RUSSIANS BE BANNED FROM WIMBLEDON? Britain’s sports minister Nigel Huddleston revealed that Daniil Medvedev and other Russians could possibly be banned from Wimbledon if they didn’t provide assurances that they are not supporters of Vladimir Putin. He said, “Absolutely nobody flying the flag for Russia” would be allowed. Talks are ongoing with the All England Club.

ISNER’S STATE OF AMERICAN TENNIS ADDRESS: Over the past 40 years American men’s tennis has had a certain set of leaders: Connors and McEnroe, Sampras and Agassi, Andy Roddick and, for years now, John Isner. Today John spoke about the state of the US game: “I think for the first time in a while you can actually say American tennis on the men’s side is very promising. There’s no doubt about that.

“We certainly have strength in numbers. We have a lot [11] in the top 100…Who knows who’s going to emerge from that pack? You have the guys a bit older…like Frances, Taylor, Reilly Opelka and Tommy Paul, Mackie McDonald…I think you’re splitting hairs with Jenson and Sebastian. Sebastian has had a tough go this year trying to close out matches. Ultimately, I think all these experiences are going to be a good thing…It doesn’t seem like he’s panicking at all. His game is there. One of the most fluid games I’ve seen in a while…Sebastian has a real, real high ceiling. He just hasn’t put it together this year.”

Isner then spoke of his friendship with another towering American, Reilly Opelka. “Every time I win a match or he wins, we always text each other. He just texted me, ‘Good botting out there.’…I said, ‘Thanks, bot.’…I do think he looks up to me a little bit…I’ve always told him the most important thing he can do…Treat the gym more important than time on the court because it’s going to keep you healthy…He’s got a lot of things going for him. He’s got a very pure backhand. He’s a good mover, too. He has a lot of room to grow…He can win a lot of points defensively, but he still can be a bit more offensive on returns as well.”

When asked what it would take to say American that American men’s tennis is back, Isner said it wouldn’t take an American male to win a Slam, “because the bar has been set pretty low since 2003. Getting two guys in the top 10 would be a good starting point.”

To do that, John noted, “You’ve got to fight hard on court. That’s one thing Jenson Brooksby does amazingly well…I’m not going to say it’s like Rafa because there’s never going to be anyone that competes like him, but it’s very similar. You need that, for sure.

“These guys are going to continue to evolve. For Sebastian…it’s just going to take one or two times where he serves out a match easily, then boom, he’s off and running. Jenson, everyone talks about his serve. He’s going to improve that incrementally over the years. When he does, he’s going to be that much better.

“We haven’t talked about Brandon Nakashima. He hasn’t done as much this year, but he’s someone that has a bright future…[and we have] the older guys ranked ahead of them; Frances, Reilly, Tommy Paul, Taylor Fritz – we’re in a good spot. Getting two players in the top 10 sometime in the near future is very conceivable.”

DON’T MAKE LEYLAH BLUSH: After Leylah Fernandez had a great comeback win over Amanda Anisimova, court announcer Andrew Krazny joked, “Tell us, Rafa, I mean Leylah…” The young Canadian replied, “Stop it. You’re making me blush.”

IT’S OBVIOUS: Russian Daniil Medvedev danced around the issue of who is responsible for the carnage in Ukraine. He said that if you asked ten different people you’d get ten different answers. Ukraine’s Marta Kostyuk seemed to be replying to him when she said, “You don’t have to be a politician…It’s obvious who invaded who.”

QUOTEBOOK:

“If Gael Monfils is a Maserati, what is Daniil Medvedev, a bicycle built for two?” – Brett Haber

“Patience is a big thing. After I settle in, I’ll find some kind of equilibrium.” – Emma Raducanu, who has been struggling since winning the US Open

“On grass I feel I can play for titles and push every player in the world.” – Nick Kyrgios

“I thought I was lost.” – Rafa, after falling far behind Sebastian Korda

“I don’t feel amazing in my sensations here.” – Daniil Medvedev on Indian Wells

“Five or six years ago I could remember all my matches. Now I can barely remember any.” – Andy Murray

“This is like seeing a unicorn. You just don’t see this happen.” – The Tennis Channel on Rafa struggling with his return of serve

TIP OF THE TOURNEY: When asked what players should do when they’re under pressure, Leylah Fernandez replied, “The best advice I can give anyone in these moments is, ‘Don’t miss. Enjoy the moment, enjoy the fight, because this is once in a lifetime. You’re down, you’re still in it – you’ve just got to find the solutions.”

THE GOSPEL OF RAFA NADAL: Centuries ago, Spaniards came to Latin America and to California to capture land, gain wealth and convert souls. Now a Spaniard, Rafa Nadal, has come to Latin America and California to capture trophies, gain wealth and capture our hearts.

Before Indian Wells began, the Spaniard was asked what it meant to him to arrive with an undefeated record in 2022. He replied, “Happiness. Surprise. I’m thankful…and trying to enjoy it. The moment is unexpected. I’ve already won three titles this year, so that is amazing. I’m here to enjoy one of the best tournaments in the world.” 

When a reporter asked him what’s been the key to his recent success, Rafa replied, “Some days it’s one thing, other days it’s another. I have been able to always find a way to adapt…Some days playing more aggressive, some days playing more tactfully, sometimes more defensive. But, of course, my serve has been working well since the beginning of the year. It’s important at this stage of my career that we do that. And…I have been brave enough to play with the right determination, the moment that I need it…I can’t be more happy with the level of tennis and the intensity I have displayed.”

When another writer noted all that was going on in the world, Rafa dove in: “I follow every single thing that is going on. For the past three years the world has been suffering a lot. The virus, and now a war…When you see people of the world suffering you can’t avoid following. 

“The only thing I hope is that things are going to get better and better in all ways. The humanity…today needs a bit of calm…[after] three terrible years of suffering world-wide. Hopefully this new thing ends as soon as possible.”

As for his long, arduous battle to get back to playing tennis, Rafa said, “The real thing is that when I was able to practice I adapted my practice to the foot, because I was not able to do all the things I want. People think of only the last six months…But after Australia [in 2021] I didn’t compete, and after Roland Garros I couldn’t walk for two weeks and was not able to go down the stairs. That is not normal at all. Then I had to pull out of Wimbledon and I wasn’t ready to go to Washington and Toronto, but I said, ‘I need to try and come back.’ 

“But the two months of practice before that…I wasn’t able to finish a practice…So it’s been a much longer period of time that I have been suffering. 

“Of course, winning has been so important. The fact that I was enjoying the competition, that’s what was very emotional for me. To be able to play in this huge stadium in front of plenty of people was something that I missed a lot, too. The situations have been very emotional.

“If you told me the foot is not a worry for me anymore, that is not true. I am worried about my foot every single day…At some time I’m going to have to stop for a little while. I’m going to have to find the right balance between competing and doing things to try to play as long as possible…That’s my goal. I’m super happy to be at Indian Wells, and that’s it.” 

Rafa then was asked about the lukewarm probation that Alexander Zverev got after violently smashing his racket four times near an umpire in Mexico. Rafa replied, “It’s honestly been so difficult to talk, being in my position, no? From one point of view I have one opinion, and from the other point of view I have a different opinion, because I have a good relationship with Sascha. 

“I like him and often practice with him. I wish him all the best, [but] he knows he was wrong. He recognized that very early…On the other side, if we are not able to control these types of attitudes on court (not only this, but there has been other stuff going on in the last couple of months)…and create a way to penalize this attitude in a stronger way, then players will feel stronger and stronger all the time. 

“As a sport we have to be a positive example, especially for the kids. There have been lots of kids watching. So from one side I don’t want the penalization for Sascha because I like him and have a good relationship with him. On the other hand, as a fan of this sport I’d like to see something harder…because this protects the sport and the referees and everybody who is around the sport.”

Rafa went on to explain why he’s skipping the Miami Open: “I didn’t play Miami for the last couple of years. I have almost 36. For my body, is not good to have quick transitions from different surfaces, no. Hard to clay…I decided to stop after here and have three weeks before the clay.”

When asked about his views on Naomi Osaka being heckled, he said, “I feel terrible about what happened, that never should happen…I feel very sorry for her. We [tennis players] are having a great life. We are very lucky people. We’re able to enjoy amazing experiences because of our life…We make money.

“We need to be prepared for that, no? We need to resist these issues when you are exposed to the people, no?…When something like this happens, we need to accept and move forward, no?

“Naomi, she suffered a lot with lot of issues – she has mental issues…I wish her to recover well…But the life, nothing is perfect, no? We need to be ready for adversities.”

When asked if he could recommend a place in Spain (excluding his home island of Majorca) for an American to visit, he advised, “You can visit Ibiza, you can visit Minorca. My neighbor islands are beautiful. The south is amazing. Madrid is doing fantastic.”

NOT BEING IRRATIONALLY ANGRY: Madison Keys, who reached the quarterfinals and is the last American woman in the BNP Paribas draw, told the Tennis Channel that one of her strengths this week has been “not being irrationally angry” that Indian Wells courts are so slow.

CAMPION APOLOGIZES FOR WILLIAMS SISTERS COMMENT: Following her problematic comments directed toward Venus and Serena Williams, the director of “The Power of the Dog,” Jane Campion, has issued an apology and called her comments “thoughtless.” During her acceptance speech at Sunday’s Critics Choice Awards, where she was named Best Director, Campion said, “Venus and Serena, you’re such marvels. However, you don’t play against the guys, like I have to.” Her comment drew considerable criticism on social media.

“I made a thoughtless comment equating what I do in the film world with all that Serena Williams and Venus Williams have achieved. I did not intend to devalue these two legendary Black women and world class athletes,” Campion said in a statement. “The Williams sisters have, actually, squared off against men on the court (and off), and they have both raised the bar and opened doors for what is possible for women in this world. The last thing I would ever want to do is minimize remarkable women.”

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