Nadal’s Rise Comes As No Shock

FLUSHING MEADOWS, NY – As Rafael Nadal sat on the podium with his well-earned US Open Men’s Singles Trophy, a smile came over his face when he was asked the last English question of the night.

You see, Nadal is a huge soccer fan, and since he doesn’t play the sport, but rather watches it as a fan, the little kid in him came out when asked if Spain’s World Cup win was more special to him than any of his nine Grand Slam Titles.

“So when Spain won the World Cup was amazing,” said Nadal, who completed the career Grand Slam by beating Novak Djokovic, 6-4 5-7 6-4 6-2. “ I was crying like ‑‑ like today, maybe, no?  But is different feelings, but at the same time every feeling is unbelievable.  But is very difficult to compare.  Football is unbelievable.  You know how big is football in Spain, or maybe you don’t know, but we deserved that title.”

Frankly, Nadal deserved today’s title as much as his countrymen’s soccer crown. By becoming only the seventh player in history to achieve wins in all four majors, his rise to the top is complete.

Only a short time ago, the 24 year-old was considered a clay-court specialist, someone who could win Roland Garros every single year, but couldn’t do much in any of the other surfaces. Rather, that was Roger Federer’s turf. Sure he made the finals on the grass courts at Wimbledon in 2006 and 2007, but he couldn’t get over the edge with the Maestro.

Then something happened in 2008. Nadal started to catch up with the other surfaces. He reached the semis in Australia and a month after his fourth consecutive French Open win, he played a classic at Wimbledon, finally beating Federer in a five set classic 6-4 6-4 7-6 7-6 9-7 to break the barrier.

“In Wimbledon, is true I have to adjust a lot my game to play in Wimbledon,” he said. “But in my opinion, play in Wimbledon for me always wasn’t that bad, because one of the most important things on Wimbledon is the movements, and I think my movements are good to play well in that surface.”

Nadal always relied upon his speed. It allowed him to catch up to balls, but he lacked the big serve which he needed to dominate on the hard courts. Yet in 2009, he won Australia and many though that it would be the year of the Spanish bull.

Unfortunately though, it didn’t turn out that way.

“Last year I had a difficult year,” he said. “Well, I had a great year because when you win a Grand Slam and three Masters 1000 you have a great year, but is true the second half of the year was very difficult for me, have some personal problems, home, and after, I have a lot of injuries, here the abdominal, before, the knees.

“So, yeah, wasn’t an easy year.  But is, at the same time, for sure, is not good have these moments but live these moments but at the same time, yes, because after that, when you come back, you are ready to (through translation) value how difficult is win titles and how difficult is be there all the time, no?”

Even coming into 2010, Nadal didn’t seem the same when he came back from his injuries with Quarterfinal loss in Australia.

But he remained positive and as he got healthy, something very interesting happened. As Rafa rose, Federer may have lost a bit of a step at age 28, allowing his Spanish rival to take his customary French Open title, and then Wimbledon.

But the US Open remained the one missing piece to the puzzle.

So coming in, Nadal made changes to his grip on his serve, giving him an extra 12 to 15 miles per hour on his shot and a true determination to make this his year at the Open.

“So always when you are playing well and when you are in the right moment with big confidence, seems like you improved a lot,” he said.  “But, you know, there are moments when you are not playing that good, when you lose your confidence, you lose matches, and seems like you are not playing that good and you forgot to play tennis.  It’s not like this, and it is not like this I improved a lot since 2009.  I think I improved my tennis a little bit but is not a radical change, no?

“Sure, to win in here in the US Open I think is the more difficult tournament for me to play, more difficult conditions to adapt, to adjust my game on this court, for the balls, for the court, for everything, no?”

Yes it was. And now that he achieved it, Nadal has the enviable task of being on top, something Federer did with grace for almost a decade. But, something says this talented young man will pass that test with flying colors as well. Because he specialty is still clay, and Paris is home to five of his nine Grand Slam title, he still will be able to dominate the competition there, especially now with his new found skills on other surfaces.

And even though, he still has a ways to go to catch Federer’s 16 major titles – and counting – with a little luck for his health, Nadal could become the greatest of all time before everything is said and done.

Right now, though, the Spaniard is just looking ahead to the rest of the season and one other goal he has for his career.

“But my goal remains for me that the Masters Cup is the big, yeah, probably the last big tournament that I didn’t win,” he said.  “That’s true is the most difficult title for me to win, because we play it in indoor, and when indoor, indoor very quick surface, so going to be always very difficult if we don’t change that.

“But at the same time is a challenge for me to keep improving to have the chance to play well there and to have the chance to win.  So that’s what I going to try this year.  For me right now the next goal is try to finish the season much better than what I did in other years.”

Spoken like a true champion.

Celebrity Tennis Premieres Tomorrow

LOS ANGELES, Jan. 28, 2010 – Tennis Channel, the only 24-hour, television-based multimedia destination dedicated to both the professional sport and tennis lifestyle, will premier original series Celebrity Tennis, Monday, Feb. 1, at 6:30 pm ET.  The half-hour show is hosted by film, television actor and commentator of The World Poker Tour, Vince Van Patten, who takes viewers inside the lives of celebrities who are passionate about watching and playing tennis.

Van Patten grew up in New York playing tennis near the US Open’s then-Forest Hills home and took up acting when his showbiz family moved to California.  He became a professional tennis player in 1979 and spent eight years on the pro circuit.  In Celebrity Tennis Van Patten unearths the ways his guests are influenced by tennis and how the sport is a regular part of their lives, and offers a demonstration of their on-court strengths.

“The worlds of tennis and celebrity have long been intertwined,” said Laura Hockridge, vice president, original programming, Tennis Channel.  “Professional stadiums are filled with newsmakers of every type, from entertainers and politicians to business people and other sports’ athletes.  Pro tennis players today are just as likely to appear on red carpets or magazine covers.  Vince Van Patten is a perfect host for Tennis Channel’s Celebrity Tennis, having navigated both of these environments throughout his life.”

The premier edition of Celebrity Tennis profiles television’s top advice guru, “Dr. Phil” McGraw, on a red clay court at Church Estate Vineyards in Malibu, Calif., where he declares his backhand to be his best shot.  A serious tennis player who uses the game as his own form of therapy, McGraw hits the court six-to-eight times a week, and admits to Van Patten that he builds his daily schedule around getting in an afternoon match.  McGraw also offers viewers a glimpse inside his overstuffed tennis bag, which he says he always has on hand, as well as a look into his vast closet full of treasured tennis T-shirts.

“It is good to be back in the game I love and a relief to be away from the high stakes poker games for awhile,” said Van Patten.

The second episode of Celebrity Tennis (Feb. 8) visits all-American supermodel Christie Brinkley in East Hampton, N.Y., at a charity benefit for the Ross School, where she is joined by actor Alec Baldwin, tennis legend Andre Agassi and famed tennis coach Nick Bollettieri.

Brinkley, who coincidentally grew up in California on Rod Laver Lane (a street named for one of the sport’s all-time champions), hits with Van Patten on the court at her house, built to the same specifications as center court at the US Open.  Brinkley also demonstrates her air-guitar skills on a tennis racquet, plays tennis with neighborhood kids and divulges funny anecdotes about her many trips to the US Open.

Poker champion Gus Hansen is the focus of episode three (Feb. 15), which takes viewers to Las Vegas’ Stirling Club.  Hansen explains that, although he played in junior tennis tournaments as a youngster, he realized he did not have the goods to go all the way.  Having made close to $10 million as a career gambler, however, he tells Van Patten that he stopped putting his money down on tennis after losing seven figures on a bet that Rafael Nadal would win the 2009 French Open.  (Though at the time of the bet Nadal had never lost a French Open match, the perennial clay-court champion ultimately lost to Robin Soderling in an upset for the ages.)

Television and music superstar Brandy is profiled in the fourth episode of Celebrity Tennis (Feb. 22).  In addition to revealing herself as the hardest working tennis student in show business, Brandy notes that her introduction to the sport came at the hands of none other than her best friend, American superstar Serena Williams.  Van Patten goes for a workout with Brandy and her demanding tennis fitness routine as they get in court time in Calabasas, Calif.

Additional episodes of Celebrity Tennis will follow these initial editions.

Tennis Channel (www.tennischannel.com) is the only 24-hour, television-based multimedia destination dedicated to both the professional sport and tennis lifestyle.  A hybrid of comprehensive sports, health, fitness, pop culture, entertainment, lifestyle and travel programming, the network is home to every aspect of the wide-ranging, worldwide tennis community.  It also has the most concentrated single-sport coverage in television, with telecast rights to the US Open, Wimbledon, Roland Garros (French Open), Australian Open, Olympus US Open Series, ATP Masters Series, top-tier Sony Ericsson WTA Tour championship competitions, Davis Cup and Fed Cup by BNP Paribas, and Hyundai Hopman Cup.  Tennis Channel is carried by nine of the top 10 MSOs, Verizon FiOS TV, and has a national footprint via DIRECTV and DISH Network.