The Rafael Riddle
So is there anyone on this planet more in need of the clay court season to begin than Rafael Nadal? I mean what is up with this guy? Has his bad outfits finally caught up to him? Is his arm tired from picking at his you know what too many times?
Last time we saw Rafa in bull form he was in the Wimbledon final, giving Roger Federer a decent run. Since then, he’s AWOL. Rafa’s won exactly ZERO titles, reached exactly ZERO finals and advanced to exactly ZERO semifinals through five events.
Okay, he’s banged up, and injured, etc. There’s some of that. But I also think that the boys are starting to clue into his game. Look at the guys he’s lost to since Wimbledon: Berdych, Blake, Johansson, Youhzny and Ferrero. The first three guys can all crush the ball, flat and hard. Youzhny and Ferrero both have excellent backhands that can handle the Nadal spin to go along with penetrating forehands.
Effective styles against Nadal? Would seem so.
You could somewhat see the chinks in the armor back at the French when both Hewitt and Mathieu gave Rafa a good scare. Both guys do not outright crush the ball but they can really whack their backhands pretty effectively and more importantly they can step in and dictate play with it, thus taking away that advantage we’ve seen Rafa have many a foe with that heavy topspin to the backhand.
Remember, Rafa likes to put a lot of spin on the ball especially off that forehand. For those that play tennis, in my mind it’s much tougher to generate such a heavy spin ball like Nadal’s off a low flat ball than a high topspin shot. Keeping the ball flat, hard and low (a la Blake/Berdych and unlike Fed) just might be the answer to solving the Rafa riddle, only time will tell. But you get the feeling that definitely Berdych and Blake both have the solution, and who knows how many others have caught on.
Does that mean Rafa’s finished? Most certainly not. The guy still runs like a gazelle and he’s as fearless and ferocious as anyone. Plus, he’ll kick back with Uncle Toni and work on improving his game in some areas, though I doubt Rafa circa 2011 will be much different than the one we see now.
And of course, he’s still inside Fed’s head, but for how much longer we shall see. Unfortunately for us it doesn’t look like the two will play this week in Shanghai seeing how I don’t think Rafa’s getting to that last four (I hope I’m worng but I think Davydenko and Blake will come out of that group.) And with Nadal only extending his record for consecutive weeks at No. 2, we may have to wait a long long time before the two resume their rivalry since the only way for him to meet Roger will be in a title bout.
Too bad, no?
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