Yesterday, Rafael Nadal did something remarkable. He carried home the trophy from Roland-Garros for the 10th time. No other tennis player in the open era has won a single Grand Slam that many times. Not Roger Federer, not Serena Williams, not Martina Navratilova, not even Margaret Court. Anyway you look at it, it’s an achievement worthy of awe.
But let me tell you something about Rafa. He’s not a god. And he knows it.
For nearly ten years, I traveled on the Tour as a friend, a spiritual advisor and a team member to players on the women’s side of the Tour. As such, I saw things that will never end up on ESPN or Eurosport. And it’s just as well. We all need our sports heroes—someone to triumph when we feel the world is heading for a no good end.
Of all the matches that I’ve sat on and all the lunches that I’ve had in the same room as the above-mentioned persons, I must say that the most impressive thing that I ever witnessed on tour happened while no one was watching.
In 2013, while on site at the Madrid Open, I was going from the gym to the players cafeteria. As I approached the door to go inside, I noticed Rafa with Toni and a few guests. I paused to let them all go in front of me. I was trying to be polite, and well, I didn’t expect that anyone in Rafa’s group would notice me.
All in Rafa’s group went in front of me. Except one. Rafa stopped, turned and held the door, letting me enter before him.
In all my years of going in and out of cafeterias and players lounges at the majors, there has only been one other player besides Rafa to stop and hold the door for me. And that Swiss gentleman has quite the cache of Wimbledon titles.
Humility. It’s the stuff of real heroes.
Photo credits (before editing): Alberto Carrasco Casado [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons