Nadal joins the greats with 1,000th win

Nadal joins the greats with 1,000th win

Evening all. I have a close friend arriving in Mexico City in a couple of hours. I said we would go out for tacos, as is traditional and practically obligatory for people returning to Mexico or visiting the country for the first time. But now I am starting to feel the pressure. I have spent the past five years going on and on about how good the tacos are in this city (they are really good). I have sent him countless envy-inducing photos of meat-atop-tortilla sliding into my greedy and salivating mouth. What if they don’t live up to the hype? Will he simply turn around and head back to the airport in disgust?

And where do I take him? I have about five “favourite” taco restaurants dotted around the city. The debut venue could be crucial to his overall gastronomical experience in Mexico. First impressions and all that. It’s like taking someone visiting London for the first time to the wrong pub – one of those dark and dingy ones with flat beer and malevolent cretins staring at you as you walk in. So much for tales of friendly atmospheres and loin-warming ales – the rest of the trip could instantly be ruined.

Maybe, just maybe, I am over-thinking it. But Mexicans take their tacos seriously and so do I.

Anyway, onto less stressful topics and Rafael Nadal has 1,000 singles wins on the ATP Tour. He reached the milestone with a tight three-set victory over fellow Spaniard Feliciano Lopez in the second round the Paris Masters earlier today. He was in a fair bit of trouble early on, losing the first set with a strangely subdued performance. But just as he has done so many times throughout his career, Nadal came through a tight tiebreak in the second to wrest the momentum and eventually battle his way to his tenth win over his countryman.

1,000 wins, you won’t need me to tell you, is a hell of a lot. In fact, its an absolutely incredible feat that only three players – Jimmy Connors (1,274), Roger Federer (1,242) and Ivan Lendl (1,068) – have achieved previously. His talent is plain for all to see, but his longevity is the most impressive thing for me. Only 16 players have even played that many matches in their career, let alone win that many. Indeed, titans of the game like Pete Sampras (984), Boris Becker (927) and Bjorn Borg (794) did not make the 1,000 club in terms of matches played. For pretty much any professional tennis player, registering 50 wins in a season is a wonderful achievement that virtually guarantees a year-end top-10 finish. Nadal has now chalked up the equivalent of 20 of those seasons in a career stretching back to 2001.

Like everyone else, I have huge respect for Rafa and his achievements in the game. During the latter half of his twenties, he suffered repeated knee problems and most people felt he would be lucky to still be playing at the top level at 30. His body, they said, will eventually buckle under the weight of his highly intense and physical style of play. And yet here he is at 35, the top seed at a Masters tournament, fresh from winning his 13th French Open and record-equalling 20th Grand Slam. If results go his way over the next couple of weeks, he has an outside chance of finishing the year as World Number One for the sixth time, which would be another record. But whatever happens he is guaranteed to finish in the top two for the 12th time.

And just one last number for you – he hasn’t dropped out of the top-10 since 2005.

But while I recognize his achievements, I have had a strange fan relationship with Nadal over the years. Back in 2003, I was lucky enough to witness first-hand his debut in the main draw of a Grand Slam at Wimbledon. As he beat Croat Mario Ancic in four sets on one of the outside courts, with long shorts and even longer hair, I remember thinking that I had never seen such a destructive and topspin-heavy forehand before. I knew immediately that the teenager would be one to watch.

Then, however, he got a bit too good for my liking. A staunch Federer fan, I was not too happy when Nadal started to disrupt the Swiss’ monopoly on the sport’s biggest tournaments. It all came to a head on that fateful July day in 2008 when he defeated Federer in the Wimbledon final in what is still to my mind the greatest tennis match of all time. I was watching from a bar in Laos, of all places. Despite getting through at least a couple whiskey buckets during the match (as was customary back then), I have vivid memories of the mesmerizing level of quality and drama that unfolded over those five hours. Later that summer, Nadal went on to win Olympic gold in Beijing and take the number one ranking off Federer for the first time. An annoying mosquito bite had become a fully-grown, puss-filled boil on my anus as the mantel of best tennis player in the world passed hands.

As Nadal has since racked up record after record, my respect and admiration has grown. But I still don’t love watching his matches. As he has matured, he has become less flashy and exciting in favour of ruthlessness. He grinds opponents down with sheer power, intensity and consistency, a combination that 1,000 opponents have now found to be irresistible. But its not nearly as attractive as the attacking brilliance of Federer or Stan Wawrinka, for example.

But who am I to criticize? When I play club-level tennis, I try to emulate my aggressive tennis heroes with screaming winners and feint drop shots. I am on a six-match losing streak. In sport, just as in life, you gotta do whatever you can to get an advantage and go as far as possible in your career. Its not Nadal’s fault that his style of play is more Atletico Madrid than Barcelona. So congrats to you, Rafa. Just please make sure you don’t win more slams, matches or tournaments than Roger.

Right that’s that for today. It’s taco time. I’ll be back here with more for you on Friday. Till then.

— What do you make of Nadal’s latest milestone? Where do you stand in the Roger/Rafa/Novak debate? Let me know in the comments section below! —