Rafael Nadal: Everything Moments

He’s a child but he looks ready to die for this.

His shorts long, his sleeves short, his hair a lengthy untamed mane that tangles across his head and is only held back from cascading his face by a bandana that sits atop his forehead.

He’s ran today with endless youth but by stepping up towards the court now, he stands on the precipice between realities, a border over which there will be no-coming back from if he were to manage to charter his way across it.

The ball is tossed up into a service motion on the baseline opposite, suspended in the air there only momentarily as though it’s aware of the significance of the point it’s about to birth and wants to mark the occasion.

Indeed, this is an everything moment.

The ball is finally struck from its perch high and rifled down fast and at an angle out wide, sending it scarpering desperately to avoid being blocked back.

He moves forwards into the return, his knees bent, his eyes trained, his feet following, pushing, his fingers curled around the racket handle with a grip that would soon cause blisters if he wasn’t careful – he should really consider plasters – and he plants himself steady into a forehand whipped around rotation that has already become something of a signature.

Hours and hours and hours spent, again and again and again, over and over and over. That had been what had got him here. It was a severe dedication to a craft that could guarantee only that his heart would never be far from another breakage. A payoff? Don’t be ridiculous. Do you know how many tennis players never make it? Get lost in the shuffle? Try and fail so immediately that it ends their careers before they’ve even got going?

Tennis owes no one anything, even those who love it.

The ball is manhandled cross-court, a safe shot, just get it back in play, that’s all he needs, just get this point going and don’t miss, good god, please don’t miss, let’s get this done, because on this surface he may look like a whirlwind, but inside he’s scared, he’s damn scared of missing this and crumbling to the dust beneath his feet as it all disappears from him.

His effort lands in easily, thank the heavens above, but a forehand reply is waiting and he needs to be ready so he’s already moving back across the court from his return ready, his mind charting all possibilities in single seconds. Back crosscourt again, down the line, drop shot from nowhere, accidental-mishit-that-somehow-clears-the-net?! It could be any and all but he just needs to be there, just let him be there, let this happen here and now, because this needs to be it, it needs to be.

But wait…

That forehand reply is going… It looks almost, almost, almost… Almost like it’s drifting long, wide, out-of-bounds, whatever it is? Could it, would it, please just let it…

Day-in, sunrise, plans with friends cancelled once more, courts swept, shoulders ache, ball hit and hit and hit, uncle muttering, lines cleaned, headband fixed, sweat drip and drip and drip, sunset, day-out, day-in, sunrise, plans with friends cancelled once more, courts swept, shoulders ache, ball hit and hit and hit, uncle muttering, lines cleaned, headband fixed, sweat drip and drip and drip, sunset, day-out, day-in, sunrise, plans with friends cancelled once more, courts swept, shoulders ache, ball hit and hit and hit, uncle muttering, lines cleaned, headband fixed, sweat drip and drip and drip, sunset, day-out… Childhood.

Please just let this be it.

And it is and his feet go beneath him as he falls back across a history that’s browned through with a reddish tinge and he lets himself really feel this, really claim this as his as he raises his arms from his body towards the sky above as though he’d climb on up there if he could. He closes his eyes to protect this moment, to really imprint it, and the expression on his face is one so purely innocent of anything other than a crazy kid-on-Christmas-morning wonderment. He’ll live this, take this for all of the happiness that it has because there are absolutely no certainties that he’ll ever make it back here again.

So much, so much yet to happen and so much, so much yet to come, this really just the starting gun of a race yet to be run, but if he could pause time at just this singular fraction of a second, just to treasure it and lock it away safe from judgment, he most desperately surely would.

There may indeed be no looking back now but Rafael Nadal’s never been the casting-backward-glances kinda’ kid.

18-years old.

1st major title.

2005 French Open Men’s Champion.

Match point played at 24:45

***

He’s a man and he looks ready to die for this.

His shorts short, his sleeves long, a bandana that sits across his forehead.

He’s ran and ran and ran and ran today with a youth that he no longer honestly has but by stepping up towards the court now, he stands on the precipice between realities, a border over which there will be no-coming back from if he were to manage to charter his way across it.

He readies himself on his baseline, his usual routine of fixing his hair that has long since thinned, falling under the intense pressure of exerting himself to his limits far too many times to count, stresses and wrinkles across his face a modern art exhibition demonstrating what happens to a person who just won’t stop even when everyone in the world tells them to.

He tosses the ball into the air above his head and he lets it remain up there for just a moment, lets it hover there unaware of the significance of the point it’s about to play a leading role in.

Indeed, this is an everything moment.

He finally strikes it from its perch high and rifles it down fast and at an angle down the middle, sending it scarpering desperately to try and force an error.

He stays where he’s at, his knees bent, his eyes trained, his feet following, pushing, his fingers curled around the racket handle with a grip that’s caused blisters so many that he wears plasters around each of them, war-wounds and battle scars, and he plants himself ready for response.

Hours and hours and hours spent, again and again and again, over and over and over. That had been what had helped him return to this stage. It was a severe dedication to a craft that could guarantee only that his heart would never be far from another breakage. A payoff? Don’t be ridiculous. Do you know how many tennis players suffer? Get lost in injuries? Try for a comeback but are damaged so greatly that it ends their careers before they’re ready for goodbye?

Tennis owes no one anything, even those who love it.

The ball is coming back to him into the mid-court and he’s ready with his forehand to whip around his head in a rotation that has long become his signature shot, ready to play it inside out aggressively but good god, please don’t let him miss, let’s get this done, because he may now look close to the finishing line but inside, he’s scared, he’s damn scared of missing this and crumbling to the concrete beneath his feet as it all disappears from him.

His shot lands in easily, thank the heavens above, but a defensive forehand reply is waiting and he needs to be ready so he’s already moving forwards into the net, his mind charting all possibilities in single seconds. Lob, down-the-line, drop-shot-from-nowhere, accidental-mishit-that-somehow-clears-the-net?! It could be any and all but he just needs to be there, just let him be there, let this happen here and now, because this needs to be it, it needs to be because he’s exhausted.

Still not over…

One more shot to hit, a volleyed backhand directly down into the open court and surely that’s not coming back, surely after five hours that’s not coming back, surely after all of this nonsense that’s not coming back…

Day-in. Sunrise. Plans with friends and family cancelled once more. Courts swept. Shoulders ache and wrists break. Ball hit and hit and hit. Surgery tables. Needled injection. Pain and suffering. Wins and losses. Lines cleaned. Headband fixed. Sweat drips and drips and drips. Muscle tears. Tears cried. Sunset. Day-out. Day-in. Sunrise. Plans with friends and family cancelled once more. Courts swept. Shoulders ache and wrists break. Ball hit and hit and hit. Surgery tables. Needled injection. Pain and suffering. Wins and losses. Lines cleaned. Headband fixed. Sweat drips and drips and drips. Muscle tears. Tears cried. Sunset. Day-out. Day-in. Sunrise. Plans with friends and family cancelled once more. Courts swept. Shoulders ache and wrists break. Ball hit and hit and hit. Surgery tables. Needled injection. Pain and suffering. Wins and losses. Lines cleaned. Headband fixed. Sweat drips and drips and drips. Muscle tears. Tears cried. Sunset. Day-out… Professional player.

Please just let this be it…

And it is and his feet hold him steady across a history that’s browned through with a reddish tinge but now bizarrely blue with a hint of hard and he lets himself really feel this, really claim this as his as he raises his hands towards to his face and grins a smile that looks like it’ll never leave him, up towards his team as though he’d climb on up there right now to be with them if he could. For now though, he handshakes at the net and takes the applause with a celebration of the like many thought had long since gone, fist-pumping the air and falling to his knees, closing his eyes to protect this moment, to really imprint it, and the expression on his face is one so purely innocent of anything other than a crazy kid-on-Christmas-morning wonderment. He’ll live this, take this for all of the happiness that it has because there are absolutely no certainties that he’ll ever make it back here again.

So much, so much has happened and not all too much left to accomplish, an echoing memory of the starting gun of a race-turned-marathon-turned-endurance-test that is even now still being run, but if he could pause time at just this singular fraction of a second as he sat on top of the world, just to treasure it and lock it away safe from judgment, he most desperately surely would.

Perhaps he’ll spare a moment now to comprehend how far he’s come and through what he’s been to make it here. Just for this, perhaps Rafael Nadal will allow himself to be a casting-backwards-glances kinda’ guy.

35-years old.

21st major title.

2022 Australian Open Men’s Champion.

The 1st and the 21st: Rafael Nadal winning the French Open 2005 and the Australian Open 2022

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