Superstition or habits falling in place if Rafael Nadal breaks the Curse of the Ninth?

Efforts to add the next after his eighth title in Monte Carlo and Barcelona have come to a naught, as the Spaniard attempts a ninth crown in Roland Garros on Sunday.
Spain's Rafael Nadal concentrates on his many rituals from the locker room to stepping on the court when he puts on his headband to his socks, next slide. Patrick Kovarik / AFP
Spain's Rafael Nadal concentrates on his many rituals from the locker room to stepping on the court when he puts on his headband to his socks, next slide. Patrick Kovarik / AFP

In the world of classical music, there is a superstition called the “Curse of the Ninth”. The idea that a ninth symphony is destined to be a composer’s last.

Ludwig van Beethoven and Gustav Mahler are often cited as its victims.

In tennis, Rafael Nadal seems to be facing, at least until now, a similar curse. The Spaniard won his eighth Monte Carlo Masters in 2012, but lost to Novak Djokovic in the 2013 final and this April, he could go no further than the quarter-final, losing to David Ferrer on clay for the first time since 2004.

Nadal is an eight-time winner at Barcelona as well, but failed in his bid to win a ninth this year, losing in the quarter-final to Nicolas Almagro, a man he had beaten in all 10 of their past duels.

The world No 1 had won 42 matches on the trot at that tournament, his last defeat coming in 2003 when he was a 16-year-old novice and ranked No 96. He lost to then world No 17 Alex Corretja.

As he gets ready to face Novak Djokovic in the French Open final on Sunday, their 42nd duel, their seventh clash in a grand slam tournament final and – there it is again – Nadal’s attempt at winning a ninth title, this time at Roland Garros, the Spaniard may well be thinking that some similar curse has befallen him.

Nadal, who celebrated his 28th birthday on Tuesday, does not consider himself to be superstitious, but he does have a few quirky habits, obsessive-compulsive rituals that he believes he needs to perform.

“If it were superstition, why would I keep doing the same thing over and over whether I win or lose?” he wrote in his book. “It’s a way of placing myself in a match, ordering my surroundings to match the order I seek in my head.”

The rituals start in the locker room. Nadal must have a cold shower 45 minutes before every match and the headband must not be tied until just before he arrives on the court.

He must carry one racquet in hand and five in the bag as he arrives on the court, and his socks must be at the same height, never higher than 15 centimetres up his shins.

Two water bottles – one chilled and one not – should be positioned on the floor in front of his chair, with their labels facing the baseline of the side he is playing.

On court, Nadal will avoid stepping on the lines when he is walking around and just before the serve, he will clip the floor behind him with the tip of his foot, pick at his shorts, then wipe his nose and tuck his hair, first behind his left ear and then the right.

When he is using the towel between points, he will always start by wiping his left arm followed by the left cheek and behind the ear, then the right cheek and behind the ear before finishing with the right arm.

At changeovers, he will never rise from his seat before his opponent and will wait at the net post for his opponent to take his seat first.

His uncle and coach, Toni Nadal, is not a great fan of these habits and expressed his frustration a few years back.

“At first I didn’t mind, but a player who puts bottles in line with the court and will not step on lines is obsessive,” he said. “Once he told me about a movie As Good As It Gets. He was saying how superstitious the main character was and I said: ‘He’s like you’. And he replied: ‘No, no’.

“When you do senseless things over and over, you’re superstitious.”

If that is true, then the concept of a curse may well be at the back of Nadal’s mind. Can he beat it? Certainly and only a reckless punter would wager against that.

A bigger problem for the Spaniard will be breaking his run of four consecutive defeats to Djokovic and finding answers to the Serb’s relentless attack on his backhand.

Djokovic, on the other hand, would be hoping there is a curse of the ninth affecting Nadal, so that the Serb can finally get his name inscribed on the La Coupe des Mousquetaires and join the Spaniard, Roger Federer, Andre Agassi and Rod Laver on the list of the only men to win all four grand slam titles in the Open era.

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Published: June 7, 2014 04:00 AM


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