Rafa is legend. The Lionheart, Braveheart ... and a heap-load of other cheesy accolades you could bestow upon him. Because he is.
The Happy Slam ... well, that's a bit of misnomer really if you consider Rafa's experience there. He missed the tournament in 2006 through his foot injury; in 2007 he had pain here, here and here ... even in his famoos ass; in 2008 I was utterly convinced he would get through to the final, until Jo-Wilfrid Tsonga decided to come of age. In 2009 he won the tournament, but had his moment taken away from him because of Federer's indulgent histrionics and I believe that the net effect of his epic 5 hour 5 setter against Verdasco. combined with another 5 sets in the final, were the initial start of his knee issues that year. In 2010 he broke down against Murray. In 2011 when going for the non-Calendar year Grand Slam, he broke down against David Ferrer but gallantly continued. In 2012 after having that heartbreaking previous year, he was a whisker away from winning only for it to all slip through his fingers. He missed 2013 again through injury, and here we are in 2014. He started fantastically well, only for of all things - a blister!! - to start to impede him. They patched him up and found a way of fixing it, he reaches the final ... only to then suffer an injury to his back.
You couldn't write it.
As a fan, I think you ponder over results like today's with much sadness, because if an opponent beats him, and beats him hands down, you just have to accept it, take it on the chin, feel a bit sad about it and then move on. But in circumstances like these, when the injury seemingly occurred in the warm up but became absolutely visible at the beginning of the second set, it's just so sad. And to think we'd spent the last few days stressing out over that blister!!
So a word or two about Rafa's opponent, and now the newly crowned Australian Open champion, Stan Wawrinka. Rafa took a medical time out at 1-2 in the second set as he bent right over with the pain of this injury. Rafa often mentions that he and Stan are friends, Stan talks about Rafa in terms of being a friend, but shall I just say that I found his behaviour whilst waiting at the chair a tad disappointing ... and I'm being polite. Wawrinka decided to get into a very vocal row with the umpire, as he seemingly believed that he should have been informed as to the exact nature of what Rafa's injury was and what he was receiving the MTO for. Wrong Wawa. Whilst there are rules that the umpire has to follow in this situation, telling you what the injury was is not one of them. And even though Ramirez told Wawrinka that he was not going to tell him what the MTO was for and that it would be best that he moved on from it, Wawrinka wouldn't. And his behaviour aided in inciting the crowd to the extent that Rafa was booed when he returned to the court. Appalling.
I'd like to think that if, in the future, Wawrinka is unfortunate enough to suffer an injury during a match, that he remembers this one. That he tells the umpire to inform his opponent what the injury is that he's taking the time out for. Now who seriously thinks this will happen? No, me neither. But with his behaviour at the WTF and now today, I'm getting a bit hacked off by this so-called friend seemingly questioning the integrity of Rafa's team and of Rafa himself. Integrity. Just who exactly left a wife and a small baby as they were superfluous to him being able to dedicate himself totally at trying to build his career? Quite.
Rafa took an injury time out in order to try and continue with the match. How sad must it be for a sportsman to know that he probably won't win the title, yet he still tries to compete in the match, to give his opponent the courtesy of beating him and to give the paying public some of a spectacle to watch ... yes, Rafa carried on. Because it's the right thing to do. On a couple of occasions I thought he was going to shake hands ... but he didn't. And strangely because there was nothing else for it, he rolled his serve in and smacked winners for fun and with Wawrinka having a total brain freeze, Rafa won the 4th set. And the irony is that when the medication Rafa obviously took started to kick in and his movement became visibly better, he then started to play like Rafa would - but a few notches under the real thing, and this actually allowed Wawrinka to start playing his game again and he got back in the match and won. Pity that Rafa didn't keep on firing down the winners.
But when the inevitable came, so did the tears. Respectfully. He behaved in an exemplary manner in the presentation ceremony, congratulated Wawrinka and his team, never spoke of the injury and with the signing of a few more autographs, he took his leave. Watching him start to break down in tears as he made his way through the tunnel was heart wrenching, as was watching him trying to gain his composure before the start of the presser. But again in the presser, he reminded all the hacks that it was Stan's day. I've said this before and I'll say it again. Just when you think that you can't possibly admire this man any more ... you just do.
I'm sad that Rafa lost in the way he did, and I'm especially sad that today wasn't the day that he managed to equal Sampras's Slam titles record. But the beauty of Rafa is that he just sucks all this stuff up, gets over it, and moves on. But as a fan, I don't know why that in some way I feel it takes me so much longer to get over it. I've done nothing but think about him all day when he'll more than likely already be on his way home, back to the ones he loves, and he'll be fine. I guess I want these achievements for him because I think I want him to get more of the recognition he deserves. Because of the era he's played in, and because of the self obsessed and self absorbed Federer worship, because of the time lost through injury, because he reached all those finals in 2011 and never got that break, I want him to rack up his own set of outstanding numbers. I want him to be acknowledged and feted. I don't want it to be about sodding water bottles, and time between points. About MTO's tics, being a "lucky leftie", pre-match routines and shouting Vamos. I want the tennis to be respected. That's why I want him to have his own set of numbers and why I think it would have been such a marvellous record to be the only player in the Open Era to have won all the Slams at least twice if he'd managed to do it today. But sadly it wasn't to be. :((
He's 27 years old and I still have every belief that No. 14 will come. And I'll carry on supporting him and being so totally proud of him till it does. As will we all.
See you all in February ...