Bernardo M. Villegas
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Values Formation Through Sports Icons (Part 2)

          Another sport icon that recently made headlines is Spanish tennis superstar Rafael Nadal who at 31 is also a millennial.  He just broke all records by winning his tenth French Open singles title at Roland Garros by routing Swiss player Stan Wawrinka, 6-2, 6-3, 6-1 in 2 hours 5 minutes.  As reported by Christopher Clarey in the New York Times, June 12, 2017, “It is no doubt a sporting achievement for the ages:  No other men’s tennis player has won more than seven singles titles at the same Grand Slam went.  And it is also surely time for a new favorite number for Nadal. Once a very promising soccer player, Nadal has long favored the No. 9, traditionally worn by strikers.  But the No. 10 is what has kept bringing him joy and fulfilment this spring.  He won a record 10th singles title on the clay in Monte Carlo and again in Barcelona.  That he managed it in Paris, too, came as a surprise to no one, certainly not the tournament organizers.  After Nadal’s victory they unfurled a No. 10 banner in the stands high above Court Philippe Chatrier and had a No. 10 painted on the podium. Also at the ready was a highlight video that showed all 10 of his championship points dating to 2005.”

         Despite all these amazing achievements, Rafael Nadal from Manacor, Palma de Mallorca (which I had the fortune of visiting in 2007) continue to be an admirably modest superstar, “avoiding public displays of entitlement with the same assiduity that he employs arranging the beverage bottle on the court in front his chair.”  Fabrice Santoro, the former French star turned French Open interviewer, gushed at the end of the Roland Garros match, “Rafa, this is one of the most beautiful exploits in the history of sport.”   With all modesty, Nadal remarked after his astonishing feat:  “In 2005, I thought that in 2017 I’d be fishing on my boat in Majorca.  But then, of course, I couldn’t think even for a second that this would ever happen to me…I try my best in all events—that’s the real thing.  But the feeling I have is impossible to describe and difficult to compare to another place.  For me, the nerves, the adrenalines that I feel when I play in this court is impossible to compare to another feeling.  Just for me, it’s the most important event in my career, without a doubt.” Rafa can inspire his fellow millennials, not only by his humble demeanour, but also by his refusal to give up.  People were already counting him out when in 2004, after winning his ninth French Open, he was superseded by Novak Djokovic while being slowed down both by injuries and by dents to his confidence.  In 2016, he withdrew from Roland Garros after two rounds because of an inflamed tendon sheath in his left wrist.  But with sheer determination and the able help of his uncle Tony Nadal who has coached him since he was a child, he bounced back and “undeniably returned to the fore dropping weight and recovering all the sting in his fearsome forehand, although there is much more to this resurgence than the signature shot.  Nadal’s serve was a strength on Sunday, when he faced and saved—just one break point.  His two-handed backhand was decisive, too.  He finished with 27 winners and just 12 unforced errors.”

       Then there is Lionel Messi, arguably the best footballer on the planet (with all due respects to the fans of Cristiano Ronaldo).  At 30 (last birthday was June 30, 2017), he is still very much a millennial and can be an outstanding model for Generation Y.  In the Wikipedia entry about him, he is described as “the best player in the world.  Technically perfect, he brings together unselfishness, pace, composure and goals to make him number one.”  Since the time I saw him live at Camp Nou—the biggest stadium in Spain— in April 2007, I have followed his football career closely.  The records he has established in the football arena are too many to count. The one I cannot forget because I also saw it live at Camp Nou was in the 2013 to 2014 season when he surpassed Filipino-Spanish FC Barcelona star, Paulino Alcantara (mother was an Ilongga and father a Spanish soldier) who had an unbroken record (not even Maradona was able to surpass it) of a total of 369 goals in all the games he played for Barca.  Messi is now the leading goalscorer of all time at the Club.  Messi has won the Balon d’Or (Golden Ball) award five times, still a record up to now.  In sum, Messi is an excellent, sensational, unique player.  His great service to the sport, though, is to serve as a role model to his fellow millennials for humility, prayerfulness, generosity in his assists, remarkable sportsmanship and team spirit.  Let me also point out that as a Christian, Lionel Messi has moved closer to the practice of his Catholic faith by having his two sons baptized and just very recently on June 30, 2017 marrying his long-time partner Antonella, who was his childhood sweetheart and mother of his children.  (To be continued).