What's that saying? Oh yes: It's not how you start but how you finish that matters. A Rafael Nadal mantra if ever there was one this fortnight.
The Mallorcan Matador won his sixth French Open championship - tying the legendary Bjorn Borg - and 10th career major, topping off what was widely considered an atypical clay court season for the Spaniard. The usually dominant Rafa came into this year's French Open with a couple of bruising losses to Novak Djokovic on clay in the finals of Madrid + Rome - the Serb's first EVAH wins against the world's top baller on the slippery stuff (the losses at Indian Wells + Miami didn't help either). And the effects of these defeats showed early on in Paris including a 5-set opening round battle - a first for Rafa at Roland Garros - against the towering American John Isner and a shaky 3 set win against the HAWTNESS known as Pablo Andujar.
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Slowly but surely, though, the Spaniard's level began to rise and by the time he hit the quarterfinals he seemed primed and ready for another shot at history. He took out Robin Soderling then defeated Andy Murray to reach the final where an all too familiar rival, Roger Federer, awaited. However, as he had done to open his defense, he started quite slowly and fell behind early due to some spectacularly aggressive play from the Swiss. But it would be short-lived. Rafa built his momentum and upped his level methodically until he was dictating the pace and play of the match. And aside from a burst of brilliance by the 16-time Grand Slammer to clinch the third set, Rafa's date with destiny was all but sealed.
Like in life, it's these tough moments - the slow starts, the uncertainty, the drive to overcome - that make the biggest, most lasting impact and the victories even more satisfying. And sometimes ballers, including Rafa, prefer it that way:
"Sometimes when you fight a lot to win, when you try your best in every moment to change the situation, it makes the title more special. For example, in 2008 I think I played better than ever, but I finished the tournament and, you know, I didn't feel that I won Roland Garros because I won in three sets. Not that difficult fourth round, quarterfinals, semifinals, with not many tough moments. Playing fantastic tennis, (and) every tournament is very special. But when you come back after not easy situation, that makes the tournaments and the victories more special for sure."It's not how you start but how you finish that matters. Huh, maybe there is something to it after all. Duly noted, Rafa.
Check out Nike's tribute to the 6-time Roland Garros champ after the jump.
[Photo(s): Matthew Stockman/Getty Images]