The high priest of perseverance

The Straits Times’ Rohit Brijnath wrote a beautiful piece about Rafael Nadal’s recent French Open victory. I’ve read Rohit Brijnath’s work from time to time since when I was a kid. As with great artists, he elevates his craft. That is definitely the case with this column – it is about Nadal and tennis on the surface.  But, really, it is about life.

Here are my 3 favorite excerpts.

Nadal is still the high priest of perseverance. He contests every single point as if it is a championship in itself. He pursues every single ball as if his life’s work hinges on this particular effort. He constructs bewildering shots because his inner voice can never convince him that a ball is unreachable. We’ve known this for years and still it’s staggering.

We learnt, on Sunday and in January, that Nadal and Federer don’t just win matches, they stretch the idea of excellence and test imaginations. An Australian Open for a 35-year-old four-kid father and a 10th French for a fellow with body parts whose warranty has run out? Had you forecast that a decade ago, you’d have made Nostradamus seem like an idle tea-leaf reader.

We learnt, again, that Nadal is whom you want to present to your son, or niece, or school team, as proof of the simple, durable qualities of sport. The ones about honesty, work ethic, patience. The ones about wearing defeat but not wilting, for before this year began his record at the previous six Slams were second round, third round, first round, third round, no show, fourth round. The ones about always improving, for he’s sharpened his serve and added iron to his backhand. Imagine at 31 the faith this took, the will it required.

There were two wonderful things that I learnt when I read this article thanks to an email from a longtime reader (thanks Shweta!).

First, I hadn’t even watched this game. And, yet, I knew exactly what Rohit Brijnath was talking about. I’ve been fortunate to watch a few Rafael Nadal games over the years and you know exactly what you are going to get from him. There is something so incredibly powerful and inspiring about consistency of effort. I still consider Roger Federer to be the greatest tennis player of all time. But, if it ever comes to picking the greatest role model, it would be Rafa – hands down.

Second, the act of reading it brought a tear to my eye. I think it was a combination of awe and appreciation for the sheer perseverance he’s shown despite his many injury troubles. Rohit Brijnath described him as the “high priest of perseverance. It is fitting.

I was once asked – “What would you like people to say about you when your time comes?” (a re-framed version of the “what would you like written on your tombstone?” question). It is a question that has stuck with me. And, the answer that has stuck is – “He cared. It showed.”

Maybe that’s why the idea of being the high priest of perseverance resonates so deeply. We are what we do. And, consistent effort and perseverance are among the truest demonstrations of care.

Thank you, Rafa and Rohit, for the inspiration.