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Freeman Cebu Sports

Transgender Nadal

WRECKORDER - FGS Gujilde - The Freeman

After winning crown number 14 at Roland Garros and 22 slams overall, Rafael Nadal found a new rival. It is not his heir apparent Carlos Alcaraz. The future of Spanish tennis fell short of expectation at the French Open. It is not Alexander Zverev either. The German stilt rolled his ankle in the semis against Rafa who played without his favorite uncle. The king of clay long parted ways with Toni the brainy, not Toni the bony.

Except for Cain and Abel, blood is thicker than water. Even beer. Uncle Toni withheld the open secret of his nephew’s not so few weapons from his new ward, Felix Auger-Aliassime, the only player who forced Nadal to play the distance in the fourth round. It raised coaching ethics issues, but the Canadian teenager didn’t mind. He knows exactly how Nadal plays, only to realize knowing is different from playing, that Rafa plays like a beast when his opponent brings out his best.

He rages like a bull when he sees the red flag at the cusp of losing. Especially if the guy at the other end of the net wears red, otherwise known as Novak Djokovic. The Serb who serves the Mallorcan with bitter losses ended up bitter, not only because he lost his crown to Nadal in the quarterfinals but more so because he lost the respect of loving French fans.

Novak is toughest mentally against the trivalry, but may be vulnerable against fans who booed him before his quarterfinal against Nadal. His coach Goran Ivanisevic rues blatant display of disrespect to the world number one. Correct, the fans should behave with decency and sportsmanship, the player be number one or no one. But there is also such a thing as introspect. Rafa is so well loved not only for his tennis mastery but more so for his humility and chivalry. Roger Federer too, who is graceful more elsewhere than in court. Djokovic isn’t bad either. It’s just that you can’t force people to like you, except many voters whose consent is vitiated by money and falsity.

So who is Rafa’s new rival then? It’s no longer Djokovic or Federer. After winning Aussie earlier this year, Nadal left exclusive club 20 he shared with his long-time co-equals. But many thought he had it easy in the forced absence of defiant Djokovic. Minus the Swiss Maestro, both came to Paris to once again settle their court differences. But Nadal won the crown twice, first against Djokovic in the final quarterfinal and against surprise finalist Casper Ruud in a boring lopsided final.

The king of clay is now a couple of slams away from the trivalry. Middle-aged Federer may not be able to catch up. Djokovic has better and clearer chances. But for now, Rafa inches closer to iron woman Serena Williams who has 23, and ironic woman Margaret Court who has 24, the all-time record but not the best-time. Serena powered through against many tough women, Margaret had easier and lesser targets. Rafa should transition to the distaff side. It’s now the women’s records that motivate him to defy body and age. Just like many times before, the raging bull routes when pundits doubt. He may have lost his hair, but not his flair.

RAFAEL NADAL

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