Rafa Nadal and Ronaldo (the elder), those titans of clay and turf, clashed across the felt this week at the Hippodrome Casino in London, for a celebrity heads-up showdown organized by PokerStars.
Dubbed the “The Duel” by the PokerStars marketing department, this was more than just a publicity stunt; the legendary sportsmen were there to raise money for charity, and Ronaldo was out to avenge his defeat by the Spaniard at the EPT Charity Challenge in Prague. Nadal took top spot in that tournament, while Ronaldo busted in fifth.
However, revenge was not in the cards this time, and the 38-year-old Brazilian was dispatched in 20 minutes, which means Nadal took home the $50,000 donated by PokerStars. The money will go towards his own charity, the Rafa Nadal Foundation, which offers educational and sporting programs to underprivileged children.
“It was close for most of the match and I’m delighted to have won,” said Nadal. “I called all-in at the final hand, which proved to be a good move. Ronaldo is a football great and it’s amazing for me to have the opportunity to face him at the poker table. I’m happy for a rematch if Ronaldo is up to the challenge.”
“Rafa played well, I made a mistake going all-in at the end with a bluff,” rued Ronaldo. “But ultimately Rafa had the best hand. Sometimes you have to be bold in poker, and even though it didn’t work out this time, I had fun.”
“In poker, you need self-control, the ability to analyze your opponent and read the game to know when to go for it, a strategy that is not too dissimilar to tennis,” added Nadal. “It was close for most of the match and I’m delighted to have won. I called all in on the final hand, which proved to be a good move.”
Both players signed on with PokerStars as relative novices on the felt and both have been given training by Team PokerStars. But it seems that Nadal, who has been away from the tennis courts after undergoing surgery for appendicitis, has been making most of the progress, proving he’s got game whether it’s the ATP or the EPT.
The 14-time Grand Slam winner has been spending his days recuperating from his operation and training for The Duel by playing online poker. Nadal recently played a session during which $100 was donated to Care International for every hand that he won.
Meanwhile, the man who was once known simply as “The Phenomenon,” and one of the greatest footballers that ever lived, was relegated to the bowels of the casino where he was forced to wash dishes as a penalty for being second best. How the mighty have fallen.