After two blistering wins over the weekend en route to the Acapulco title, many on the internet, on this site and in social media were quick to declare that Rafael Nadal was back! Back with an exclamation point, or two!! But is he really?
Sure, it’s nice to see Nadal back on the court, back to winning clay titles again but he’s not back to where he was a few years ago in 2010-2011 when he was also lighting up his rivals like Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray and of course Roger Federer. That was the real Rafa. This version, not so, no?
As I said yesterday, I still think Rafa has a lot of work to do and hurdles to clear.
First, regarding Acapulco. He did play well, there’s no question about it. Nicolas Almagro pushed him a little Friday night but then he really revved up his game obliterating his buddy David Ferrer 6-0, 6-2 in the finale. So with good reason Nadal was all smiles Monday for that light hit-around in NYC. But…
I felt Ferrer played like crap. He’s bad against Nadal anyway – I think he had lost 18 straight sets on clay to Nadal entering – and in that match he was uncharacteristically missing his margins badly. Of course Nadal will make you do that but on the whole I thought it was a very poor performance from Ferrer, and he even said as much afterward.
So while the result was eye-popping, I don’t think it signals that he’s ready for battle with the likes of Djokovic. And especially not on hardcourts which has been up to this point in his career his most trying surface.
Nadal hasn’t won a title on the cement since 2010 Tokyo (2.5 years ago) and his most recent final came 13 months ago at the 2012 Australian Open. And in his most recent hardcourt event – Miami last March – he had to withdraw with that damn knee. He couldn’t even finish the tournament.
Now he comes in with that same problematic knee. A knee that Nadal admits is still not 100%. With the all-important clay season around the corner, is he really going to risk it if he feels any kind of twinge? Unfortunately, in some ways that knee is just a ticking time bomb, waiting to go off at any moment and the hardcourts only increase the chance the fuse gets lit. It’s a shame but that’s the reality.
So I really have my doubts with Rafa this month. Let’s remember that even when his knees were 100% healthy he still had a tough time on harcourts – did you know Nadal hasn’t won a hardcourt Tennis Masters title this decade (last being the 2009 Indian Wells event)? And at least for now some of Rafa’s locker room aura has to be gone. That’s why I do give guys like Mikhail Youzhny and Janko Tipsarevic a chance against the Spaniard at IW. While he’s not having a great year, Youzhny is 4-5 against Nadal on hardcourts. Not bad! Tipsarevic has been wounded of late, but if he’s healthy I think he can trouble Nadal. They really haven’t played on a hardcourts (only time was 2007 US Open when the Serb retired). The guy is pesky, though and he can pull off big win on this surface. And speaking of pesky, Nadal could get pushed around right out of the gate by Ryan Harrison in his opener.
Federer isn’t at his best either anymore, but heck, he beat Nadal a year ago when Rafa was playing much better and had healthier knees (the weather may have also discomfited Nadal in that one).
And that’s why I’m not ready to get caught up in the Rafa is back hype. Not yet anyway. If he beats guys like Federer and Tomas Berdych next week and makes the final where he gives Novak a run, then I’ll be a believer. Until then at least we get to see back on the hard stuff. And for now that’s enough for me.
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