One of the most remarkable episodes of Wimbledon so far has been the surprise demise of Rafa Nadal at the hands of the completely unknown Czech, Lukas Rosol.
While chinks occasionally appear in the armour of even the greatest champions, few expected the world No.2 and double Wimbledon winner to get humbled by a player ranked 98 places beneath him.
“It’s not a tragedy, it’s only a tennis match,” Rafa said afterwards, trying desperately to appear stoical in defeat. But you could tell that inside he was quivering like a leaf.
On court, Rafa normally has all the courage and ferocity of a raging bull. Get him out of his comfort zone, however – off the field of play – and you catch a glimpse of the frightened little boy underneath.
It hardly requires a psychoanalyst to suggest that all those obsessive court rituals might be masking inner mental turmoil. There have even been suggestions that Rafa has some sort of obsessive-compulsive disorder.
Just look at the way he lines up his drinks bottles next to his chair, for example, so that all the labels face the same direction. Or the way he skips to avoid stepping on the lines in between points.
His clothing comes in for some extra-special OCD treatment too. Apparently he categorically refuses to wear socks that extend more than 15cms above the tops of his shoes.
His bandana comes out of his kitbag an hour before he’s due to play, but he never ties it around his head until just before he steps out onto court. After virtually every point he religiously towels down his face and arms.
But it’s just as he’s about to serve that the OCD goes into overdrive. First he adjusts his sweatbands; then he tightens his bandana; next he tucks away any errant hair… And finally, of course, comes the piece de resistance: he grabs hold of his underpants with his fingers, before tugging them firmly away from betwixt his butt cheeks. Psychoanalysts could write whole essays about that one. Freud would have had a field day.
But there’s further evidence of Rafa’s inner turmoil. He admits that many things in life – some of them fairly innocuous – give him the willies: spiders, dogs, thunder, lightning, even the dark.
“Being home alone at night makes me a bit nervous,” he once told Vogue magazine. “If I’m at home I have to sleep on the sofa. I can’t face going to bed. I’m there with the TV on and all the lights on. I’m not very brave about anything in life. In tennis, yes. In everything else, not very.”
Perhaps that’s why he still lives in the same apartment block as his mama. Apparently she’s on the floor below him, just in case he gets frightened in the night.
It’s a shame she wasn’t able to offer him a bit of mumsie-style comfort during his five-set defeat at the hands of Rosol.
Perhaps that’s just what he needed. At change of ends she could have taken him in her arms, clasped him to her bosom and whispered soothingly into his ear – “There, there” – about the nasty Czech man the other side of the net.