The true measure of a person is at the moment of defeat and , after Nadal’s stunning loss to an unknown Swede at the French Open , he proved himself to be a true champion. Nadal had been riding a 31 match winning streak at Roland Garros and was the odds on favorite to win his fifth French Open in a row so the loss to Robin Soderling must have been devastating. Yet, Nadal maintained his cool during the post match interview and answered questions calmly and with class. No excuses, no whining as he congratulated his conqueror, the graceless Robin Soderling. Astoundingly, Nadal said that he would like to see his arch rival Roger Federer win the tournament now that he himself was out of it. This was the epitome of generosity since such a win would mean that Federer would have won the one Grand Slam that has thus far eluded him , that it would give Federer a 14th GS title and cement his place as the greatest player of all time and make it that much harder for Nadal to eclipse him.
There was a poignant moment during the interview and it had to do with the crowd reaction during the match. The French crowd, like sports fans everywhere , was rooting for the underdog, Soderling. When Nadal fought back to take the second set, the crowd quieted momentarily but as Soderling zoomed back ,it once again startedchanting “Ro-bin, Ro-bin” . Not “Ra-fa, Ra-fa” for one of the great champions of our time. The N.Y. Times quotes Nadal thus: ” It’s too bad really- at a tournament that means so much to me and is so beautiful- that the public has never made such a gesture to me…. I have lots of years to come back here. I hope that one year the public will do that for me.”
Don’t worry, Rafa.They will, they will. I hope that it is sooner rather than later.
P.S.I have always been a Federer fan and I’ll always root for him against anyone else but, after yesterday, Nadal runs a close No.2. in my list of favorites. If Roger is out of the running , I ‘ll be pulling for Nadal.