Rafael Nadal the beacon of sport's old power despite new normal

Editor’s note: The opinions in this article are the author’s, as published by our content partner, and do not necessarily represent the views of MSN or Microsoft. Here, sweaty athlete at your most distracted and dishevelled: please summarise your many as-yet unprocessed emotions in a pithy, uncontroversial 30-second soundbite to a live audience of millions in front of a bit of sponsored cardboard, before you’ve even had a chance to see your loved ones. But strip away the artifice, cordon off the agents and handlers, give the athlete a webcam and all the free time in the world, and it turns out – who knew? Sergio Agüero, playing a game of Fifa on Twitch over the weekend, impulsively decides to ring Lionel Messi, who immediately demands to know why Agüero has called. “I was bored,” a sheepish Agüero replies, “and, well, it was nine in the morning.” That little exchange, I would proffer, reveals more about the relationship between two of Argentina’s greatest strikers than any number of heatmaps, thinkpieces or 8,000-word interviews with their cousins on the Athletic. What’s striking is the warmth and affection they seem to have for each other: something more reverent than simple banter, more profound than professional regard. Rafael Nadal tries to let a beaming Roger Federer into his live chatbut instead spends several minutes staring quizzically into his phone. Poignant because what should have been the first week of RolandGarros is instead a bleak warning of their dwindling collective window of opportunity. “I like the old normal, with adaptations.” It’s a nice thought, this idea that when tennis emerges from its summer hibernation, the hierarchy of the jungle will soon reassert itself, just as it always has. There is a famous New York Times profile that describes his explosive, injury-prone style as a “poetic self-immolation, the glorious athlete pushing himself resolutely toward[s] his own undoing”. Nadal has spent a good part of his adult life reading his own premature obituaries. Great players often have the ability to slow the clock on their signature moments, lending them an effortlessly epic quality. For Nadal, it is the instant before he winds up that immense forehand, that broad torso recoiling, a moment of perfect stillness that alsocarries an implication of irresistible power. “I learned during all my career to enjoy suffering,” Nadal has said and this is the axiom that sustains his most ardent fans as he waits impatiently in his Mallorcan palace,watching time tick slowly away. After almost two decades of untrammelled dominance, a new order feels impossible to envisage; like much else that felt unimaginable a few months ago. Time for niggles to clear up, for aches to heal, for the mind to refresh and for the body to recharge. And then, as if awaking from a deep sleep, he will return: the old fire in his belly, a new trick or two up his sleeve, ready to suffer and conquer all over again. Gallery: The greatest ever upsets in tennis (Photos) Bianca Andreescu won her first Grand Slam title, denying Serena Williams her 24th when she defeated Serena 6-3, 7-5 in the U.S. Open final on Sept. 7 in New York to become the first Canadian to win a major singles title.  Five-time US Open champion Roger Federer of Switzerland was knocked out of the tournament after losing to unseeded Grigor Dimitrov of Bulgaria in the quarterfinals 3-6, 6-4, 3-6, 6-4, 6-2, on Sept. 3. Defending champion Naomi Osaka of Japan was knocked out in the fourth round losing in straight sets 7-5, 6-4 to Belinda Bencic of Switzerland, on Sept 2. Unseeded American Alison Riske knocked out the French Open champion and top seed Ashleigh Barty of Australia, 3-6, 6-2, 6-3 on July 8, to reach her first career Wimbledon quarterfinal. Defending champion Angelique Kerber of Germany crashed out of the tournament with a shock defeat to American Lauren Davis on July 4. In another Wimbledon upset, unseeded American Reilly Opelka (pictured) registered the biggest win of his career, 7-5, 3-6, 4-6, 6-4, 8-6 defeating three-time Grand Slam winner Stan Wawrinka in the second round on July 3. The youngest player to ever qualify for the tournament, Cori Coco Gauff (pictured) defeated the former champion 6-4, 6-4 on July 1. Serena Williams leaves the court after her defeat against Czech Republic's Karolina Pliskova after their singles quarter-final match. Switzerland's Roger Federer lost his fourth round match to Greece's Stefanos Tsitsipas in Melbourne. The 20-year-old beat the two-time defending champion Federer 6-7, 7-6, 7-5, 7-6.  Twenty-year-old Osaka thwarted Williams' chance of winning her seventh US Open, as she won 6-2, 6-4, at the women's final. Australian Open champion Caroline Wozniacki suffered a shock 6-4, 1-6, 7-5 defeat against Russia's Ekaterina Makarova in the second round. China's Wang, who was ranked 85th at the time of the match, defeated Williams in straight sets, 6-4, 7-5, ousting her from the Roland-Garros in the very first round. Uzbekistan's Denis Istomin brought a shocking end to Novak Djokovic's title defense this year, defeating the Serbian world no. Though he had his hands full as he faced the Swiss superstar, Italy's Seppi registered a 6-4, 7-6 (5), 4-6, 7-6 (5) win over Federer. Williams’ (R) was on her way to becoming the third women’s player in the Open era to achieve a calendar year Grand Slam — after Margaret Smith Court in 1970 and Steffi Graff in 1988 — when she lost the semifinal to Vinci of Italy.  Then world No. 102 Brown (pictured) of Germany knocked out two-time champion and then 10th seed Rafael Nadal, 7-5, 3-6, 6-4, 6-4, in the second round of Wimbledon. The wildcard from Australia and then world No. 144 defeated then top seed Nadal in four sets, 7-6, 5-7, 7-6, 6-3, in a fourth-round match at Wimbledon. Defending champion Williams, who went in to the tournament after a triumphant French Open campaign, lost to then 23rd seed Lisicki (pictured) when the unheralded German defeated the American, 6-2, 1-6, 6-4. In one of Wimbledon's biggest-ever upsets, Karlović (pictured) of Croatia ousted defending champion and top seed Lleyton Hewitt in the first round, 1-6, 7-6, 6-3, 6-4. Everyone was surprised when seven-time American champion crashed out of Wimbledon, losing, 6-3, 6-2, 4-6, 3-6, 6-4, in the second round to then 145th ranked Bastl (pictured) of Switzerland. 15 Federer (pictured) brought then top seed Sampras to his knees when he ended his 31-match winning streak by 7-6 (7), 5-7, 6-4, 6-7 (2), 7-5 in the fourth-round. Dokic (pictured) of Australia pulled off one of the biggest upsets in tennis history when she defeated then world No. The Australian went on to win his first ATP tour title after beating Agassi in the semifinal of the Adelaide International. The American champion tasted defeat at the hands of Krajicek of the Netherlands in 1996 when the latter beat him in straight sets. The American, who had never won a Grand Slam semifinal, was splendid in the Centre Court clash. Soviet southpaw Volkov (pictured), then ranked No. 52 in the world, defeated top seed Edberg of Sweden in the first round of the U.S. Open, 6-3, 7-6 (3), 6-2.