Mind over matter.
There is not a single person on this entire planet who understands the meaning of this phrase better than Rafael Nadal.
Already this year, he has displayed this incredible character trait of his on several occasions: the Australian Open and the Rotterdam Open. There may have been others, but these are the two I shall focus on.
Two finals, two completely different situations.
Rafa's Australian Open semifinal lasted a record-breaking five hours, 14 minutes. He should have been—and probably was—physically exhausted.
Every article, every prediction I read, was writing him off. Federer would be the out-and-out winner, they said. No competition.
But they forgot just who they were talking about. The man with the impenetrable mental strength, the man who had transformed his entire career in four months.
And he came out that Sunday and reminded us all why he is the World No. 1, why he is the man nobody should ever write off.
His loyal fans (myself included) hoped he would win. Of course we did. But did we expect it? Is there really anyone out there who can honestly, genuinely say they expected Rafa to win that final?
Somehow, I doubt it. But win he did, despite everything that had been said to the contrary. Perhaps because of everything that had been said to the contrary.
His mind is a fortress. Tell him something is impossible, and he goes out of his way to make it possible, to achieve.
He truly used his mind to overcome his exhaustion and ignore his critics. And, in doing so, he cemented his place in tennis history.
Take the Rotterdam final. He started the first set not playing his best tennis, but came through looking like he still had a shot at the title.
Early in the second set, he got injured. Or, at least, made his injury one hell of a lot worse if it had been there all week.
He took time out, he got treatment. When he came back, he wasn't moving well. Struggling. Yet he still took the second set. "On one leg," as Andy Murray put it afterward.
His pain was obvious. Any other player would have retired. But, as always, Nadal's mental strength must be taken into account with any physical pain.
The man does not enjoy retiring. He has a lot of pride in himself, and that is by no means a bad thing. He likes to finish his matches, he doesn't like to quit, even with very good reason.
He is also too much of a sportsman. He didn't want to deny Andy Murray that victory. Nor did he want to take away from that victory after the match, refusing even to talk about the injury in his interviews.
It's just one more example of the kind of champion that is Rafael Nadal.
And now, there's a lot of talk of the calender slam for Rafa. Can he do it? Most would say not.
But then, I think we've all learned what happens when we tell the man he cannot do something.
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