NADAL, DRAVID ARE THE TRIUMPHS OF WILL OVER SKILL

If Dravid snarls inside, then Nadal snarls on the outside; if Dravid is beaten by a ball he winces, if Nadal misses one he bellows, writes ROHIT BRIJNATH.

Athletes circumnavigate the world faster and more often than Phileas Fogg, suitcase warriors whose life ticks away in airports, planes, hotels and foreign fields, and yet still they rarely meet. Maybe it's because Tiger Woods owns his own jet that he hasn't bumped into Roger Federer at a Heathrow newsstand. Both men know of each other, indeed watch each other, but have never met each other. They could discuss world domination over a Tetley teabag.

Last week, two fellow sporting travellers, strangers yet powerfully connected, found themselves briefly stationed in London, one competing, the other celebrating. Rafael Nadal may not have held a cricket bat, though on the matter of spin he is a precocious professor; Rahul Dravid's familiarity with things Spanish might extend only to an omlette, though as far back as 1999 during the World Cup he made a patient pilgrimage to Wimbledon.

Everyone has a take on desire, this intangible gift that some possess and others cannot find. An old owner of it, who wore it on his cocky chin, once said: "Champions aren't made in the gym. Champions are made from something they have deep inside — a desire, a dream, a vision. They have to have last-minute stamina, they have to be a little faster, they have to have the skill and the will. But the will must be stronger than the skill."

Muhammad Ali knew desire is what adds the extra to the ordinary, a talent hard to measure but easy to identify, for often it makes even the plain beautiful. Not many these days like Justine Henin-Hardenne, for it is said she is short of grace (as person not stroke-maker) and absent of polish.

But even so, as she stands there, all lean, pinched face, there is a desperation about her that brings a certain glow, a girl with a gymnast's supple body aching for a prizefight. Irrespective of whether she wins the women's final (ultimately, she didn't) , it is her disdain of mercy that is in a way appealing.

When Henin played Kim Clijsters, barring a streaker attack, meteorite shower or well, painkiller trauma, the slighter Belgian was always going to prevail. In the past five Slam meetings she has. Clijsters is pleasant, which is no impediment to winning for so is Federer, she merely does not want victory as much. Losing for her is not the personal affront it seems to be for Henin. When the match is in balance, it shows.

For the outsider, like us, this can be bizarre, this Jimmy Connors assertion last week, echoed widely in sport, that he hated losing more than he liked winning, as if failure was so awful to consider, so demeaning, so unedifying, that it in fact propelled him forward into the arms of grateful victory.

Maybe every man has his switch, and his moment. In Adelaide, on the last Australia tour, Dravid took India to an unlikely victory, and revealed later that he was just sick of losing, fed up, weary, of being famous for being in teams that fell short abroad, and this accumulated hate of the familiar, the idea of another defeated walk back to the dressing room was his fuel.

Of course, that is only part of it, for through some concoction of gene and environment, Dravid has always been driven. His desire is to win, but first, before that, to ensure that, comes his desire to fulfil himself as a player and as a man, to explore and understand his gifts, to polish them day after day after day, and he has done well because he has understood the paradox of the desperate man needing to be patient.

Always Dravid craved victory, but only through his desire to improve did he arrive at a level where he was able enough to alter outcomes and find that victory. The making of Dravid has been a process, and on the way even the most stubborn, those most dazzled by the incandescence of the stroke-makers, have learnt to appreciate him.

When he sweats, as in the West Indies, a serious man powered by this consuming need to take his team forward, all erect severity and deliberate greatness, it is formidable. In his defiance is reflected his desire, and while his beauty has never been obvious, no longer is India blind to it.

Like Dravid, Nadal also relishes the idea of struggle, it defines him, this scuffle with both the opponent and the self. The Spaniard might have lost to Federer (this article was written before the Wimbledon women's and men's finals), but his arrival in this grasscourt final was almost absurd (the ball moves slower, bounces higher, but it was only his third visit to SW 19). Ali would be proud: will had overwhelmed skill.

If Dravid snarls inside, then Nadal snarls on the outside; if Dravid is beaten by a ball he winces, if Nadal misses one he bellows. Connors, quicker with the compliment than he ever was, gave the Spaniard the equivalent of a knighthood when he said: "Nadal's my kind of guy, he goes after everything."

Connors played every single point like he was caught up in some private blood feud, and if his manner could be unattractive, his desire was contagious.

Nadal is his muscular echo, pushing himself, further, faster, again and again; he is not immediately pretty, except after a while the sheer rawness with which he chases a ball, his naked need to win a point, to not waste his gifts but lay them out for all to see, is rousing. He plays like a man powered by a cause. It sounds a bit like Rahul Dravid.