If you watched Superman Returns, Lois Lane typed 'Why The World Needs Superman' on her laptop as the title of her article about her super hero. Because the movie ended a few minutes after that scene, I wouldn't know if Miss Lane was able to finish writing her piece. But for me, I am sure I am going to finish mine. Why? Because Superman is fiction and is from another planet, while Rafael Nadal is real and is from ours.
I first saw Rafa play in Seoul in 2006. Wearing a headband, sleeveless shirt and shortened capris pants, he played Roger Federer in a three-setter. I saw him again in 2007 polishing his serve at the practice courts of the Australian Open, this time in a short-sleeved shirt and shorts with uncle-coach Senor Toni Nadal looking on.
(RAFA at friends' breakfast table in Manila)
Since he broke into the scene, Rafa has set his own records and realized his dreams: a career grand slam by winning all the four majors plus an Olympic gold medal, the youngest to win this and that, a number one world ranking, and the player who has won the most titles here and there, including a record eight French Open titles!
When he returned to the tour early this year after seventh months of injury, he entered nine tournaments and won seven of them! Rafael Nadal made a comeback look so utterly simple! After all the pain from the injury, all the worrying of how his knee would hold up and the doubts of gaining back his old form, he rose from all these to prove to us that he, indeed, is one super tennis player.
(Waiting for our turn at the domestic airport)
His return to tennis this year reminds me of Monica Seles and Martina Hingis' comebacks. When Monica returned from a break from tennis caused by that tragic stabbing, she immediately won her first tournament and even won another Australian Open title. Martina, on the other hand, made it to the top 6 of the singles' ranking and even won three titles plus an Australian Open mixed doubles title.
Going back to the super man of the hour.
Last Friday night (Seoul Time), I was one of the millions of tennis fans all over the world watching the Rafa's semi-final match against Novak Djokovic, the current world number one. Like everyone else, I thought Rafa would win the match and march on to another final by serving it out the fourth set. But unfortunately, he was broken and Nole forced a tie-break which Nole won. And even on the fifth set, the match was all see-saw and at some moments, it looked like Rafa would not be able to defend his title on the last Sunday.
(Just landed at the domestic airport near my hometown)
But that's tennis. You never are sure that you have won the match until you shake hands at the net. And if that's tennis, that's also Rafa. His opponents are never sure they have won until the chair umpire has declared so. Even the top players have always admitted that, perhaps, the most difficult opponent to play against is Rafael Nadal. And at that very entertaining semi-final, which was worthy of a final, I would given out two trophies for the two. (I would love to have a copy of that match, by the way. That one is a classic!).
(At my hometown in the Philippines)
And as I watched him play at the French Open (sadly, on TV only!), Rafa was just relentless. He didn't give any free points away. His opponents had to earn them. His left-handed forehand was so mean with lots of topspin, which I think, had more revolutions than the combined revolutions of our planet in its whole lifetime. His down-the-line forehand was spectacular to watch; it was just as straight as the white side-line at the Philippe Chatrier court.
And his defense was just as formidable. He scrambled from one side to the other, sliding and gliding on the red clay as a figure skater would on ice. He sliced, lobbed and dealt with any blow like Superman would. But unlike the super hero, Rafael Nadal does not have a weakness on clay. Even if the tennis balls were made of kryptonite, he would still win.
(On the plane)
Although at the finals match, his compatriot David Ferrer didn't give him any scare, a couple of attention-seeking incidents gave the 2013 French Open Men's Finals some sideshows. The title has belonged to Rafa for eight times now. He is a royalty at Roland Garros and at the European clay courts. He truly is the master and king of clay.
When I was in Manila six months ago, I went into a bookstore looking for his book, simply titled, RAFA. The staff told me it was the last copy and got it at a sale price of only PHP200 (about US$5). A steal! Over the next few weeks, I slowly read his book when I was on the road, at home, on the plane or even at the subway. Rafa recounted where it all started and how he became this huge superstar of tennis with both of his feet planted on the ground. He remains humble and close to his family, and loyal to his hometown of Manacor in Mallorca, Spain.
(At the tennis courts in Seoul where I play)
He is one likable superstar. Even with his stellar achievements, he seems just like an ordinary person with whom everyone, especially his millions of fans, can easily related to.
So, why does the world need a Rafael Nadal?
Well, there are millions of reasons each of his millions of fans can give. But we can start with these: because we have a lot to learn from him, we love to watch him play, we like him for his humility, talent and devotion to his discipline.
But above all, I think, the world needs Rafael Nadal because he is our own super man.
(My breakfast on the weekend Rafa won
his 8th French Open! A celebration of sorts.)