Oh to be a fly on the wall at the Novak Djokovic household last night. Watching Rafael Nadal get pushed around by journeyman Horacio Zeballos Sunday in the Vina Del Mar final got me thinking, what would the current World No. 1 have done to the King of Clay? Fortunately for Nadal, Djokovic was long way away, just like the French Open.
As for the match, give credit to Zeballos, who served out of his mind and really took it right at Rafa in collecting the win of his lifetime. After pounding Jeremy Chardy in the semifinals, all expectations were for the same against the Argentine but that’s why we play the game. In the end though, Nadal just isn’t Nadal, at least not yet anyway. And that’s nothing to lose hope over.
Let’s remember, the guy hasn’t played in seven months and this isn’t the women’s tour on which players like Serena Williams and Kim Clijsters can miss long periods of time and then come back and immediately dominate like nothing happened. It just doesn’t work like that in the men’s game – never has and probably never will.
Even Andre Agassi, who fell to No. 141 in the rankings, lost his first tournament final during his 1997 comeback, and that was at a CHALLENGER to someone named Christian Vinck in his hometown of Las Vegas! So let’s not get completely carried away.
The good news for the Nadal camp and his fans is that the real goal, the French Open, is still three months away. And that gives Rafa plenty of time to work back into form, which I think he will do. Rafa will also be back on court this week at a tougher, deeper Sao Paulo field (Nicolas Almagro will also be there), so he’ll quickly wash away the disappointing taste from that Sunday shocker. And we know Uncle Toni won’t have any of Rafa getting down on himself.
The bad news, well according to Rafa, is his knee is still bugging him. Uh oh!
As I said last week, I just don’t know how you play your knee back into shape. To me, that’s a medical mystery. So I really have to wonder how long until that joint breaks down again. I honestly hope I’m wrong but that’s going to be the endgame here.
In the meantime, I think we do need to let this play out a little longer – if he comes away with zero titles after this Latin Swing, then panic! Rafa had some good, vintage moments last week along with some bad, but that’s to be expected in any comeback in just about any sport.
That said, it’s hard not to raise your eyebrows at that result yesterday. And while it may not signify much in the bigger picture right now, Nadal’s loss yesterday should give a lot of hope to the other players, including Djokovic who now looks to be the favorite to complete his career Grand Slam at the French Open this spring. Subject to change of course. It’s still February, so chill.
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