Hi. At first, I wasn't at all sure that I ought to write this letter. For most people, that gut feeling is enough to make them put down the old pen, so to speak, and maybe get on the Stairmaster for half an hour, or go Ajax the plates around the light switches. Not me! I'm averse to exercise and cleanliness and when I get an idea in my head I like to let it rip. You might be surprised to learn how much fun it is to celebrate birthdays, important holidays and home-team Super Bowl victories in the company of your goldfish.
So the particular idea in my head at this moment is that you should hang up the sticks now, before this Madrid tournament starts, and just kick back and smell the roses. You've achieved more already on clay than any man before you, including Bjorn Borg. Let me go warm up this coffee and I'll explain.
Okay. We get it, Rafa. You're good on clay. Really good. So how many times do you really need to win Monte Carlo. . . Barcelona. . . Madrid. . . Paris? Seven (Monte Carlos)? Six (Barcelona)? Five (Roland Garros; sure its a so-so number, but then it's a Grand Slam event and 99.9 percent of your peers never even get a sniff of a final). Enough already!
I can anticipate your answer: "The true is, is not about the tournaments."
Okay, so it's about the competition, about the challenge to see just how good you can be. It's about the adrenalin rush, and the ecstasy of victory and the agony of defeat, blah blah blah. But I've noticed that the only guys who go around claiming that it's about the ecstacy and agony have no freakin' idea about the "agony" part. They never experience it! I'm talking guys like you, Michael Jordan, prelapsarian Tiger Woods, Joe Montana. . .
Oh yeah, it really, really hurt to lose to Robin Soderling in the fourth-round of the French in 2009 when your knees felt like rusty hinges on a barn door. Nothing will ever make that little "1" on your career record at Roland Garros (38-1) go away, will it? (I need a little more coffee here.)
Where were we? Oh, yeah, cry me a river, Rafa, but what about your friends and countrymen, like that little dude David Ferrer whom you took to the woodshed in the last two tournaments? Hello, agony! Hello, defeat!
Does it ever occur to you that while you're biting the trophy, they're contemplating swallowing cyanide? These are people you grew up with, Jet Boy. People you like. You are to clay-court tennis tournaments what a wolf is to a pen of sheep and don't think they don't notice. Don't for a minute imagine they're standing there on the awards podium, holding their dinky little runner-up trophies and thinking, as they watch you hoist and lock your fangs on your big shiny one: That ecstacy of victory looks kind of overrated to me. . . I'll take the agony of defeat anytime! Or even, Those are some guns on that Rafa.
They're thinking, I wonder if that Tonya Harding girl's phone number is listed?
I'm here to tell you, Rafa, that Da-veed, No. 5 in the world and one of the best clay-court players of this era, isn't all that jazzed about having lost in your last 10 consecutive meetings on clay. And you know what? Were it not for you—man, what is this, decaf? Hang on.
Were it not for you, Mr. Guns 'R Us, Roger Federer would probably be closing on 20 Grand Slam titles. With you in the picture, he's Oh-for-three-in-Grand Slam-clay-court-finals-also-featuring-Rafael Nadal. With you in the picture, he has to keep fielding embarrassing questions about that weird quote from Mats Wilander, you know, the one about "How can he be the greatest of all time if there's a guy in his own time who he can't beat?" Up until around 2007, everybody—including probably the great man himself—thought you'd be kind of cute playing Robin to Roger's Batman. But you know what? You're not Robin, Mr. Pirate Pants. You're. . . Clayface!
Well, anyway. . . I'm wondering, if it's not the tournaments, nor the competition (WHAT COMPETITION?????) . . . sorry . . . what else could it be?
Surely it's not the money. You come from Spain, where apparently everybody has plenty of money even though few people seem to have jobs. (You have one, I'll give you that, although at this time of year it's about as demanding as being from Pittsburgh and drinking beer for a living.)
Can it be the ego thing? I mean, do you get some kind of sick thrill out of all those pictures of you throwing a vicious upper-cut while simultaneously mimicking a knee-shot to the groin? What do you do at home, photo-shop images of your enemies faces into those iconic photos? And where might those enemies come from—certainly they can't be in tennis. Did some kid steal your lunch money in grade school? Give you wedgies that have left you kind of paranoid about them for life? You're just like Ivan Lendl, another pretty good clay court player, but with nobody around to play the part of John McEnroe.
This may sound a little bit like I'm criticizing you, or have some kind of hater hat on. But really, I'm telling you for your own good. People are starting to talk. Sure, they pay lip service to the idea of perfection, but they sure get tired of it quickly. Often, they end up hating it. And the way you're going to town here on this clay-court tour, people are beginning to say you're. . . boring. That maybe watching you destroy people is still fun only in a vaguely sadistic kind of way. They're starting to see you as Johnny Carson with a revolving cast of Ed McMahons.
You don't really look like a stoner to me, Rafa, but when it comes to playing on clay you might consider the wisdom of Nancy Reagan, who advised many of us to "Just Say No."
And if you don't want to do this for yourself, think about your image. (Imagine overhearing this: Did you see—that poor boy Nadal got his clock cleaned on grass by Donald Young. He's not very good but you gotta love how hard he fights and he looks like such a nice young man!) And if you don't care about that, do it for us. And if you don't do it for yourself, your image, or us, do it for the ATP.
Did you see how last week, while you were beating up on an assortment of ATP stiffs, the WTA popped two freshly-baked champions out of the oven? That gorgeous Julia Goerges girl won in Stuttgart in front of her countrymen and women (there's no truth to the rumor that certain people wanted to celebrate by immediately marching on Warsaw). What a story! And in mysterious and exotic Fez, a 31-year-old Italian woman with a one-handed backhand named Alberta Brianti won her first WTA title (what did they do, clone that Schiavone girl?). Now, those were juicy stories.
You know what we say in journalism, Clayface? "Dog Bites Man" is not a news story. "Man Bites Dog," now there's news—and a story.
Sorry to have to be the one to tell you this, but you've become just another rottweiller taking a chunk out of the mailman's butt. You need to reinvent yourself, and stepping away from the clay would be a good start.
Your Faithful Friend,