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Rafa, Nyquist on a roll?

 Rafael Nadal in 2006.

Rafael Nadal in 2006.

Like Mark Twain’s death, reports of the demise of Rafael Nadal’s career – often instigated by Rafael Nadal himself – have been greatly exaggerated.

It was just a short while ago as Novak Djokovic blazed through the winter season that Rafa was questioning whether he should go on.

Oh, what a difference a spring (and, let’s face it, Rafa’s favorite surface, clay) can make. Having won in Monte Carlo – where Nole exited early – and Barcelona, Rafa’s back. As if there were any doubt that he would be. 

Look, much as I adore seeing Nole win, Nole is better for having Rafa around. And no one knows that better than Nole.

“I think Rafa is everybody’s main rival on clay courts,” Nole said in his May 1 press conference at the Madrid Open, “because of his history on this surface and the results that he had throughout his career that deservedly put him, as always I think, one of the top, or probably the top, favorites on any clay-court event, as a matter of fact.

“Of course, he did not have a 2015 clay-court season the way we used to see him play on a very high level. It was not up to his standard. This year, he’s showing already a much higher quality of tennis and performance. He really played terrific, both in Monte Carlo and Barcelona. I’m sure he’s very motivated to do well here in Madrid and continue to do well on his favorite surface.”

The Big Four (or Five or Six) are back, then, doing what they do best, falling all over one another, with Andy Murray – belated congrats to him and wife Kim on baby Sophia – training with pal Rafa in Majorca leading up to Madrid, and Nole busy defending Rafa, who’s busy suing Roselyne Bachelot, the former French minister of sport, for defamation for suggesting some of his time away from the tour was a secret ban for doping (as if tennis does anything secretly).

“I think he has done the right thing to protect himself and the integrity of his own brand and the achievements he had in all these years of work and the results that he put in,” Nole said. “And the sport itself, because Rafa is definitely one of the best players in the history of the game, one of the most important players we have.”

Ah, yes, Rafanole lives, and all’s right with the world.

Speaking of rivalries, what do we make of this year’s Kentucky Derby crop? Will Nyquist best Mohaymen and Exaggerator, two of his rivals? The gorgeous bay is undefeated going into the Derby. But that hasn’t stopped the naysayers. Funny, much of the criticism is the same criticism leveled last year against a certain horse who went on to win the Triple Crown. Mmm.

And if it’s any consolation to you, Nyquist, Secretariat had his doubters, too.

But as a resurgent Rafa has proved, it ain’t over till it’s over.