It hasn’t been the best of returns so far for Rafael Nadal. Two years ago, Nadal came back after a lengthy layoff and dominated the tour, eventually finishing the year No. 1. So the bar was set really high when he returned to tennis last month. And unfortunately things haven’t gone particularly smoothly.
Nadal stunningly lost to Michael Berrer in his Doha opener. Then at the Australian Open he really struggled against American journeyman Tim Smyczek before luckily pulling it out in five. Tomas Berdych eventually did the deed in the quarterfinals, thumping the former champion in straight sets.
Yeah, the Berrer loss was a shock, and the fact he should have lost to Smyczek was a good sign. The loss to Berdych isn’t that troubling – at least he didn’t lost to Kevin Anderson – though the bagel set raised more than a few eyebrows.
So going into this Golden Swing South American circuit, there was concern but there was also hope that Rafa would return to Rafa on his favorite clay surface. And things started out well in Rio. Rafa had some struggles early in his first two matches against Bellucci and Carreno Busta, but was untested in the second sets of those matches. He wasn’t at his best, but he was was doing enough to win and working his way into form.
Then the big match Friday morning against the streaking Pablo Cuevas who at the time had won 31 of his last 32 on clay. Rafa won the match but essentially lost the tournament right there as he didn’t finish off the Uruguayan until an ungodly 3:18am! That’s right, 3:18am – so maybe he got to sleep at 5am?
Later that day, after dropping the first set 6-1, Fabio Fognini stormed back to hand Rafa his first loss ever in Brazil. Now the fun begins…
If you are a Rafa fan you are probably a little worried. But I wouldn’t be. Not yet. Honestly, after such a late finish Friday night I have to give Rafa a pass for Saturday. I just do. In fact, I’m simply discarding the match altogether because there is now way he can be at 100% after such a late finish.
Having to play on the same day as a 3:18am finish is just plain wrong. Rafa knows it, the tournament now knows it. The ATP and pro tennis should know it also.
“Moving forward we will look at how we schedule matches to make sure this doesn’t happen again,” said Fernando Soler of IMG which owns the event.
Moving forward, players should not be starting matches past midnight, unless they BOTH agree to. That simple. If the schedule’s running long, move a match to a different court. What’s the issue?
And we know how OCD Nadal is. So his mind must have been an absolute mess during the Cuevas match, and of course later that night against Fognini.
So to me, this one is on the tournament and not on Rafa. Now if Rafa loses again in Buenos Aires, then we can all collectively panic. Could he really lose to Fabio Fognini if he was feeling OK?
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