“A week is a long time in politics,” said Harold Wilson once. So it is in tennis. A week ago Rafael Nadal was suffering from what seemed incurable end-of-season blues as he departed prematurely from the ATP World Tour Finals at the O2 Arena. Put a clay court under his feet, though, and he is a changed man.
His 19th consecutive Davis Cup singles victory and the 15th without conceding a set, against Argentina’s Juan Monaco, had the world’s media asking him if he was human rather than about his alleged lack of passion. He was entitled to smile wryly at the questioner. “Last week I was almost dead, and now people think that I'm not human,” he said disbelievingly. “I don't think we can dramatise or exaggerate things either way. I wasn't there last week, and I am human this week.”
Trust the grounded Nadal to keep things in perspective. What was even more surprising was that after winning the first two sets 61 61, thereby mentally crushing his good friend Monaco, he said he became nervous!
It’s doubtful whether his opponent noticed any anxiety in Nadal’s game. According to Monaco the Argentines had speculated beforehand that Nadal’s game might be lacking rhythm and that his exertions at the O2 Arena might have left him tired, but his friend knew better.
“I know him so well,” said Monaco. “Deep down, I knew that in the big moments he grows, he's a big player, and he gives his best.”
Consequently, he didn’t reproach himself too much for his straight sets thrashing – Nadal had been sporting enough to visit him in the changing rooms afterwards in an effort to cheer him up. “Obviously I'm very sad, because nobody likes to lose this way,” he said, “but I am also aware that in front of me I had one of the best tennis players in history.”