One of the most harbouring images in sport is that of one of the true greats falling from grace. But that’s exactly what we are witnessing at the moment with Rafael Nadal.
Nadal, at his prime, was simply one of the greatest tennis players of all time. However, the fearless approach with which he once played has been replaced by a severe lack of confidence and, at the age of 29, his career is at a crossroads for the first time as his body increasingly struggles to cope with the immense pressure it faces.
The Spaniard was beaten yesterday in front of the centre court crowd and exited Wimbledon for the fourth time in as many years to opponents all ranked outside the top 100. His past four Wimbledon’s now look like this: 2012, loses to world number 100; 2013: loses to number 135; 2014: loses to number 144; 2015: loses to number 102. This is a man who has won Wimbledon on two occasions and has appeared in five finals. But these memories are slowly evaporating.
For everything that he has won in the game – 14 Grand Slam titles, a record only bettered by Sampras and Fededer and over 60 tour titles – the once invincible Nadal is experiencing the most difficult period of his career and you have to wonder if he will ever recover.
Watching the match yesterday when I got home from work was painful. There were moments, albeit very few, where the match could have been saved, glimmers of hope but it just didn’t happen for Nadal. I was watching it and thinking that maybe in years to come people would be talking about a moment of brilliance where Nadal’s fortunes changed and the frustration of the last few years was lifted from his shoulders. The moment never arrived. It’s clear the fire still burns bright inside Nadal; he is a warrior and his desire to win cannot be questioned. However his once so trusted forehand that became synonymous with everything good about his game just isn’t there anymore. The shots that used to have opponents scrambling around the court are nor happening any more. The shots that used to hit the chalk are missing.
So how can Nadal recover from this latest setback and return to greatness?
Dispense with Uncle Toni
Nobody can deny what the pair have achieved together in the sport. Coach and mentor Uncle Toni has been there every step of the way but maybe it’s time for him to step aside and let another coach come in and work with him. In the aftermath of yesterday’s defeat Wimbledon commentator John McEnroe echoed these thoughts and you have it agree it might be the only way for Nadal to move forward. It’s worked for other players: Novak Djokovic has bought in Boris Becker, Roger Federer is coached by Stefan Edberg and Andy Murray is working with Amelie Mauresmo and Jonas Bjorkman. If Nadal wants to regain his number one ranking and win another Grand slam, he needs fresh ideas. He needs to reinvent his game and a new coach is the only way he can do this.
A Crisis of Confidence
Nadal is suffering immensely from a lack of confidence and the fear factor just isn’t there any more. Opponents can smell this from the other side of the net and now go into a match against Rafa knowing that he is vulnerable and that they can expose his weaknesses. It’s a mental battle at the moment for Nadal and he is losing it. He is the first to admit that he is not the player he once was but all that does is add to the problem. He needs to rediscover that air of invisibility if he is to stands a chance of returning to the top.
Nadal has endured a terrible year and half with injuries and he doesn’t look as comfortable on court. Someone who is so meticulous in his approach, the flick of his hair behind his ears, the readjustment of his shorts before every serve, this is a man that has built his game on perfection. It might be an obvious thing to say but he needs to adapt his game to cope with the years of torture he has put his body through if he is to become competitive again and win another slam.
As a fan of Nadal I have followed him since his maiden French open victory in 2005. His passion, desire, hunger and determination are what separate him apart from other players of his generation. No matter what sport you’re playing, if you have all of the above you’re in with a chance of winning. Nadal has made a career out of perfection and he has produced some of the greatest moments in recent tennis history. The epic Wimbledon final against Federer in 2008, his dominance at the French Open over the last decade….will be remembered for years to come. Sport is characterised by moments that take your breath away and Nadal has had his fair share.
Rafa Nadal is too much of a champion not to come back to the level he played at a few years ago and I’m convinced he will win another slam.
Youtube link to Federer final: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-1yfWb0-jqQ
Tweet us your thoughts at @PHA_Sport