Bernardo M. Villegas
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That is the Spirit of Sport

          I was unabashedly rooting for Rafa Nadal in the last Wimbleton finals.  As I wrote in a previous column, Rafa is an icon for the youth of today.  He has many human virtues that are getting rarer among people of his generation (he is 25 years old).  I admit I was being sentimental when I cheered for Nadal, despite the fact that his opponent Novak Djokovic had beaten him five straight times in their last matches.  I now consider Spain as my second home after spending two years recently as a Visiting Professor in a business school in Barcelona.  Even more, in a trip to his home province, Palma de Mallorca, I actually visited the small town from which he hails, Manacor. That sealed my membership in the Rafa fan club.

         There was no question that in the Wimbleton finals, Djokovic played better tennis. As Christopher Clarey reported in the International Herald Tribune on July 5, 2011, "Djokovic is an astonishing 48-1 in 2011, with his only loss coming against Federer in the semifinals of the French Open, which Nadal eventually won.  But Djokovic's loss in Paris was the big exception to the new rules.  Djokovic has beaten Federer and Nadal--the two players who have defined this era--eight times in nine matches this year, and he has been stingiest of all with Nadal:  beating him five straight times, including twice on U.S. hard courts, twice on his beloved red clay and now on grass."

            Nadal is admirable in his accepting the truth--about Djokovic and about himself.  And that is authentic humility, the virtue that I would like today's youth to emulate in Nadal.  In the same article by Clarey, Nadal gives no excuses for his defeat:  "When one player beats you five times is because today my game don't bother him a lot.  Today, probably against me, he's playing better than my level.  Find solutions, that's what I have to try, and that's what I'm gonna try."  He did not argue when the mother of Djokovic remarked triumphantly:  "For four years it was Roger, Rafa, Rafa, Roger.  Now, it is Novak, Novak, Novak, Novak."  Rafa did not deny that very factual statement:  "Could be.  Since January (2011), its' been a new era, no?  He's won practically everything.  He's been the best."

          Humility, however, also includes recognizing one's outstanding talents and there is no question that Rafa has extraordinary talents in tennis.  After his defeat in the hands of Djokovic, he did not wallow in self-pity.  He refused to be considered a has been, a category to which some people are already relegating Roger Federer. Reminded in a post-match conference that he had lost to Novak five times this year, he replied:  "I know that.  We have to find how I can bother him another time.  I did in the past.  He's in the best moment of his career.  That's true, too.  I am in one of the best moments of my career.  Still not enough for him.  I have to play longer.  I have to play more aggressive.  I have to make less mistakes."  That's my man from Manacor!

             Even in defeat, Nadal is a role model for young people.  Asked how he would improve from his performance in the Wimbleton championship, he simply replied:  "Probably be a little bit less nervous, play more aggressive and all the time be confident with myself.  That's what I'm going to try next time."  As reported by Karen Crouse in the same issue of IHT in an article entitled "Nadal discovers the pain of running into an unstoppable force," Rafa refused to be cowed by the seeming invincibility of Djokovic.  He is convinced he can beat Number l in future matches:  "My experience says this level (of Djokovic) is not forever.  Even for me, when I was last year winning three Grand Slams, my level of last year is not forever.  Probably the level of Novak today is not forever.  I am going to be here fighting all the time, waiting for my moment."

             Rafa is a real model of an athlete who never loses hope.  This example should spill over to the many other dimensions of the life of a young person, whether professionally, socially, culturally, socially or spiritually.  Never say die:  "When one player is better than you, at this moment, the only thing you can do is work, try to find solutions and try to wait a little bit for your time," Rafa said during the press conference.  "I'm going to wait and I'm going to try a sixth time.  And if the sixth doesn't happen, a seventh.  It's going to be like this.  That's the spirit of sport."

           Yes, Rafa, that's the spirit of sport.  But even more, that's the spirit of life itself.  If you don't succeed now, try and try again. May your tribe increase.  For comments, my email address is