The fall of Nadal


Rafael Nadal is perplexed. Months of early-round losses have left Nadal a puzzled mess, each press conference seemingly becoming another psychiatrist visit where Nadal searches futily for solutions to his current somber state. Throughout all the “what if”s, that Nadal is seemingly so fond of as of late, one irrefutable truth becomes blatantly clear throughout a sea of uncertainties: Rafael Nadal is undoubtedly, indubitably and undeniably in the back-end of his once-illustrious career.

It’s practice, and Nadal is working on forehands with his coach/uncle, Toni Nadal. Biceps glistening, face scrunched up in obvious physical exertion, sweat dripping down his shirt, Nadal is sprinting sideline to sideline, all the while bashing his trademark loopy forehands fed to him by his uncle. Cross-court, down the line, banana shots, Nadal cannot be shaken. On the practice court at least, Nadal is the best, the one to be feared. Work ethic still as unshakable as ever, he’ll keep up this high-cardio workout session for hours, fastidiously toiling away on his courts as he waits for the hard work to translate to results, just like it used to be.

But off the practice courts, there’s a decidedly different story. This season, Nadal has been ranked as low World Number 10, and has a meek record of “only” 52-16, with zero Grand Slam titles(The professional men’s tours biggest tournaments) and only three lower level tour titles to his name. In retrospect, a respectable record for almost everyone else, except it was just two short years ago that Nadal was the undisputed World Number 1, having won the French Open and the US Open, along with eight other tour titles, including two masters 1000 titles in Cincinnati and Toronto. No longer feared amongst his peers, of which he used to inspire dire fear in whenever his name was even looked upon in a tournament draw, rivals such as Novak Djokovic, the current undisputed World Number One, are now completely acknowledged to be out of Nadal’s sights, even by Nadal himself.

I know today Novak is not my league, is a different level of me this year,” Nadal said, before a match-up with Novak Djokovic in the final of the Beijing Open last week. “Tomorrow is a match to try to enjoy and try to play the way that I want to play, and we’ll see.”

A perplexed Nadal, bewildered by yet another pre-finals loss

It didn’t used be this way. Rafael Nadal used to be one of the most feared players on the men’s tour. His forehand was a menace, indomitable and untouchable, his movement was sublime, and his mental strength and confidence was completely impenetrable. Yet ever since last fall, when he suffered a wrist and back injury, he hasn’t been the same. His forehand, once heavy and struck cleanly with power, has turned into a feeble mess, seemingly feeding his opponents high powder-puffs which they gladly devour. His serve, although never a strength, has turned into a weakness. Worse of all, Rafael is unmotivated and uninspired, maddenly unsettled by his atrocious results as of this season.

“Obviously today I’m not as good as I (was),” Nadal said during the Italian Open.”Life has been fantastic with me. Today I’m not winning as much as I did in the past. Life continues.”

It now becomes abundantly clear that in today’s inverted and confusing world of men’s professional tennis, the decline of Nadal has become commonplace, seemingly just a backstory to the rest of the happenings of the men’s tour.

To fervent tennis fans such as myself, this is by all accounts frustrating and a terrible ordeal to sustain. And although I count myself to be a fervent Novak Djokovic supporter, I cannot deny the inherent greatness that is (or was) Rafael Nadal’s illustrious career. And although it greatly pains me, I think that I speak for the majority of tennis fans out there when I say that the Nadal of the past is greatly missed. Yes, we miss his untouchable endurance, we miss his unstoppable power, we miss his beautifully crafted points, we miss Nadal WINNING. (And yes, even if that comes at the expense of a couple, and only a couple, of Djokovic or Roger Federer defeats.)

And so, Rafael Nadal, the whole of the tennis begs of you, to just figure it out already. Drop this facade of helplessness, and put on the supersuit that you used to wear before every match. Show the entirety of tennis world, be it the critics, the fans, or the players, the might of Nadal again. There is without a doubt that Nadal has in fact fallen, but if there is one thing that we’ve learned from Nadal, it’s that somehow, in someway:

Nadal will find his way back.