Time separates Selbst and Nadal from the masses
What do Team PokerStars Pro Vanessa Selbst and tennis legend Rafa Nadal have in common? You could, quite accurately, suggest an insane level of dedication to their game. You could also point out that they've both clocked up prize winnings that have broken the eight-digit mark. You might even realise that they are both world number ones: Rafa is at the top of the Association of Tennis Professionals rankings, Selbst sits atop the women's all-time money list, no little thanks to her third WSOP bracelet win last week. But, in this instance, the answer we're looking for is that both players feature in a Time magazine profile of Nadal in which the tennis legend talks about how poker contributed to one of the greatest sporting comebacks of all time.
Time magazine is an iconic weekly magazine wielding a readership measured in the millions, perhaps tens of millions.* If you're talking press coverage, it simply doesn't get any more mainstream. When they heard that tennis number one Rafa Nadal was going to play the world's best female poker player (and arguably one of the best poker players gender regardless) heads-up in Monte Carlo? Yes, they were always going to have time for that. It's a great introduction to poker for many people who wouldn't necessarily marry the king of clay with any other court cards, especially in such a positive light. Any poker player knows that the game is based on skill, but for those that have never played it can really help to hear that from a big name.
As the Time article notes, Nadal is widely recognised as being the most physical player on the circuit with a high tempo game which batters opponents into submission. Not only is it incredible to watch but it's helped Nadal to win 13 Grand Slam titles. That total could soon be 14, which would put him level with Pete Sampras if he wins his favoured French Open for a record ninth time: he's currently through to in the quarter finals in Paris and level with Novak Djokovic as short odds favourite with the bookies. Unfortunately for Nadal, his blistering style of play does take its toll and the threat of injury looms just as large as Djokovic in terms of whether he'll catch Roger Federer's record 17 Grand Slams. It was during a lengthy spell on the sidelines, one which it had been suggested he might not recover from, that Nadal got to grips with the game of poker. In hindsight, it's not a surprise.
It's very possible to draw parallels between poker and tennis in terms of the mental fortitude that helps to excel in either, the self-belief and tenacity that's needed to overcome the swings of the game. That's all fairly evident to poker enthusiasts, but to actually hear that from Nadal himself is something else, as quoted in the Time magazine article.
For Nadal, the card games were therapeutic. The slow tedium of rehab often left him frustrated. "They are tough moments, because when you are working every day, I didn't really see a result," he says. "That" - he pauses, uncomfortable with the memory - "is hard. Does it make sense to keep working when you are not seeing one positive result during the work?" He needed the battle, if not on the court, then at least the table. "Poker gave me that competition that I really need," he says. "It really helped me a lot when I was injured."
- Sean Gregory, Time magazine (May 22, 2014)
That problem is one that all poker players can empathise with, the difficulty in keeping both the focus and the faith when the results simply aren't going your way. While Selbst is known to be a pretty decent tennis player and Nadal's turned his hand to poker pretty well too - he beat Daniel Negreanu to the title in the €100,000 EPT Charity Challenge - both will be best known for their success in their own fields. While Selbst's best chance of scoring a point against Nadal would be optimistically hoping for a double fault, the Spaniard could take a shot at any of the world's best players and be in with a shot at beating them. That accessibility has and always will be the prize draw for poker (alongside the chance to win a huge pile of money, of course). One thing's for certain, playing poker is a lot easier on the knees.
You can argue luck and you can argue skill, but in any sport or endeavour you'll be hard-pressed to go wrong if you keep backing the person with the most discipline, focus and teeth-gritting will to win.
If you're a Time subscriber you can read the full article here.
*Time had an audited circulation of 3,301,056 in 2013, but magazine readership is generally measured in multiples of circulation figures.
Rick Dacey is a Corporate Writer for Rational Group.