The Case For Rafael Nadal As An Icon and “What’s There To Improve?”

September 19, 2010 § Leave a comment

“The Case For Rafael Nadal As An Icon”

It is not a very sensible thing, to look up to rich and successful sportspeople as role models or icons. Like movie stars and sports personalities, their lives are often detached from our immediate own. Television and newspapers glamorize the lives they lead: the big money, the fame, and the debauchery.

We often forget that they’re mere human too: they have the same needs and wants, but sometimes distorted, for many of them live in bubbles: secluded and out of touch with the reality that surrounds them.

I learnt it the hard way. In the final vestiges of my youth, some of my icons have shown just how human they are. Tiger Woods is such a human, even though many believed him to be beyond that. A perfect tragic character, not too dislike Dostoevsky’s Mitya Karamazov, whose suffering might be a chance to build character.

Still foolish as I am, not discouraged from pursuing certain sports personalities as icons. What might even be more absurd, is that one of such is a man younger than I am, whom I look to for inspiration. Surely this isn’t some kind of unhealthy fascination with fame, success and popularity!

The seemingly everyman, down-to-earth personality of Rafael Nadal keeps me interested. The man has just secured his first US Open trophy this month, thus securing himself a place amongst the pantheon of tennis greats- a select few who have ever won every Grand Slam in tennis: the Australian, French, Wimbledon, and US Open during their careers. Some have even proclaimed his rising and usurping of “the greatest tennis player of all time”, Roger Federer, to become the true Greatest.

Nadal is irked at such suggestions, and if he is to be believed, would claim that he himself is only a work in progress despite his achievements. There is still much to achieve. Roger is the ideal figure, he claims, and the superior model to learn and look up to. After all, he has more slams than me, he would say.

“For sure I think is talk about if I am better or worse than Roger is stupid, because the titles say he’s much better than me, so that’s the true at that moment. I think will be the true all my life. But, sure, for me, always, always Roger was an example, especially because he improved his tennis I think during all his career, and that’s a good thing that you can copy, no? So I try to copy this, and I know Roger and me are different, much different styles. Being better than Roger I don’t think so is the right moment to talk about that, because I am I don’t think that.”

-Rafael Nadal,US Open post match interview, when asked if he had chances of being better than Roger Federer, and possibly becoming the greatest tennis player ever.

It really isn’t too difficult to understand Nadal’s mentality and outlook, even though sky-high confidence Americans (especially the journos) are dumbfounded by what they might think is unnecessary humility in the face of greatness. The only way to remain relevant to what you’re doing, and keep getting better, is to believe that one has still much to learn, and to be on a quest for perfection.

But of course this comes with the understanding that perfection is elusive- it just doesn’t exist. The existence of an ideal figure who paved the way for a similar quest or journey might personify that ideal. Outdoing or usurping him/ her is seemingly unthinkable.

That’s Nadal for you, a man hellbent on improving- the key word in his career and life. That might just possibly be the one thing I take from him as I waste precious hours away from sleep, watching his matches and reading up post-match interviews of the man.

“What’s There About Me To Improve?”

What about me then? How is this relevant? Why improve? What flaws do I have? Too many. Too much for this lifetime. So I’ll just do my best to improve day by day, consciously. But also to do with what I already have. It is important to balance some healthy discontent with acceptance and satisfaction.

I’m much more satisfied with myself than four years ago, and what I am now, have now, can arguably bring me a certain level of contentment in life. But what a great example Nadal and Federer make about healthy discontentment, not just for sport, but for life!

Here is a list of n things that would take me a lifetime or more to perfect, nonetheless worth the effort to:

1. Writing to communicate to others
2. Anticipating the needs of others
3. Reading other’s nonverbals
4. Learning to be culturally sensitive, and adaptation to different environments
5. Learning new languages
6. Sensitivity and an appreciation for numbers and mathematics
7. Learning to develop and nurture a passion for something
8. Patience, cool-headedness, and emotional control
9. Faith over doubt
10. The art of small talk
11. A healthy sense of humor
12. Handling constructive criticism like a man
13. Learning to say “No” when it is called for
14. Dressing well, dressing to respect oneself
15. Existing with people that may not appeal to me
16. Non-judgement of others
17. Sensitivity and appreciation for building and maintaining sources of incomes (businesses, investments etc)
18. Learning “What it means to be a fucking human being”

Some of these are intentionally vague, possibly hitting the periphery of what I’m really trying to express. Some are obviously too large to tackle, but always nice to keep in the radar.


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