Rafael Nadal: Rare And Fierce Athlete
Statistics are out on an epic battle that was close to the longest final in a grand slam event ever. The victor had 16 more unforced errors and seven less outright winners than the vanquished, a statistic that would be baffling the computers should they be predicting the outcome of a match with this data fed in! 
 
With 23 aces, the firepower of the opponent was multifold that of the man under the lens – Rafael Nadal (Rafa). And yet……..!
 
When I sat down to watch the encounter, I gave Rafa a slimmer chance of winning against Medvedev—an opponent who, perhaps, is the hardest hitter in the game today—than the valiant Abhimanyu dodging the chakravyuh and returning triumphant!
 
A few months shy of his 36th birthday, playing almost in the 20th year of his career, and with no full calendar year since 2003 when he has been free of injury, it is difficult to stack more odds against someone who had to come through a gruelling schedule of a grand slam event with six best-of-five sets to be crossed before arriving at the title match. 
 
 
He was almost gone in the quarters against another gifted opponent after clinching the first two sets. If he had lost, hardly any eyebrows would have been raised and it would have gone with a mention at the bottom of the sports page (because on that day Virat Kohli was in the headline!)!
 
This would rank as, perhaps, the toughest final ever played though another one at the same venue, with our hero losing to Novak Djokovic, was a shade longer and is the longest ever played grand slam final. 
 
To come back to the statistics, a victor in such an important event would normally have a lower percentage of unforced errors even if a shade less on outright winners or aces. That statistic is looking completely askew in the context of the final result. 
 
My observation is, while Nadal had more unforced errors, his quality of overall play forced his opponent to make more errors that didn’t count as unforced.
 
To those who watched, this would have been most evident. Most points were gruellingly fought, like two gladiators in the Roman Amphitheatre or, closer to our era, the fight of all times—Foreman v Ali!
 
It is sheer grit that closed out points than a streak of genius.
 
Would Nadal be the greatest tennis player ever? A foolish question in the context of any sport; but yet quite unlikely. 
 
Why? Federer is more admired and grace captivates spectators more than grit and guts! 
 
Djokovic may end up with more titles and become unsurpassed for many decades to follow. 
 
 
But Nadal may be one of the best ever sportspersons, which no other tennis player may be a contender to—someone who rekindles the debate of aliens visiting the earth in flying saucers! 
 
Just for the statistically inclined, Nadal has a success ratio of 6:2 with Roger Federer and 5:4 with Djokovic in grand slam finals. 
 
Nadal Federer Djokovic
 
(Ranganathan V is a CA and CS. He has over 43 years’ experience in the corporate sector and consultancy. For 17 years, he worked as Director and Partner in Ernst & Young LLP and three years as senior advisor post-retirement handling the task of building the Chennai and Hyderabad practice of E&Y in tax and regulatory space. Currently, he serves as an independent director on the board of four companies.)
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