Down Goes Nadal?!?!
Rafael Nadal is an absurd 277-12 on clay since 2005. 2 of those 12 losses have come over the past two weeks. Unlike, Rafa’s 2011 Madrid and Rome losses to Novak Djokovic neither of these losses came against men with Grand Slam titles or in the championship match. Make no mistake David Ferrer and Nicolas Almagro are strong clay court players. Still, 2 losses in 2 weeks to 2 Spaniards?
Rafael Nadal is a freakish athlete who is a talented tennis player. His greatest talent may be his mental focus. Consider that in the 2011 US Open final that Nadal lost break leads in each of the first two sets to fall behind by 2 sets and came back from a break 3 different times in the 3rd set to win a tiebreak and force the set to a 4th set that Novak Djokovic won. Most players would simply be too dejected to make that type of effort. Rafa is mentally strong and competes like crazy. If he loses a fraction of focus or fight, he loses a bit of his biggest weapon.
Nadal’s 2014 clay court title in Rio required a 3rd set tiebreak and saving match points versus fellow Spaniard Pablo Andujar. Had Andujar converted a match point and won in Rio, the world might be tilting off of its axis. Rafa looks human this clay court season despite being number one in the world and having ruled the dirt like none other.
I do not think it is time for every Nadal fan to panic or believe he’s on the verge of a major drop-off. Rafa has 2 titles in 2014 and was runner-up at Miami and the Australian Open. He’s not at his best, but he’s not exactly playing minor league tennis either. Maybe Nadal is bored and boredom has sapped his focus. I don’t mean that he can just snap his fingers and regain it or that these losses to not bother him. What I mean is perhaps winning so often on clay and playing a style that requires focus, fight and tactical discipline has taken a bit of a toll from 2005-2014. The question is can Rafa ration his focus or does he need it every week to really have it at the biggest events? That question will frame the remainder of the clay court season.