I said at the start of the clay season that despite his poor start to 2015, it wasn’t time to worry yet about Rafa, the clay was here. He’d do well in Monte Carlo and probably come away with a 9th Barcelona title. Well, after a lackluster loss to Novak Djokovic in the Monte Carlo semis followed by today’s stunning straight set less to Fabio Fognini in the THIRD ROUND of Barcelona… I must say, IT’S TIME TO PANIC!
I didn’t watch all of today’s match, just the last few games and the breaker in which Fognini did everything he could to hand Nadal the set (the Italian let go a 6-3 lead), but Rafa, humble guy that he is, wasn’t taking it.
“Today is a bad day,” said Nadal. “But my challenge is to get back to my best level again and I will work until that happens. I have the conviction that it will happen.
“It was a disaster today. Fabio played better than me and he deserved to win. I didn’t deserve to win. Until I sort out the ups and downs I’m suffering from this season, I will continue to be vulnerable,” he went on.
“I spent last week in Monte-Carlo full of good moments. It was the best week of the year. But this one has been the opposite. It’s been a very negative week. I thought I would be able to find consistency, but it hasn’t happened.”
Let’s cut to the chase here:
* Nadal’s confidence is shot, he’s even admitted as much and now he can’t even get that back on clay
* Nadal’s about to turn 29, which isn’t necessarily old but consider all the matches, but with all the injuries and all the wear-and-tear he’ll be an “older 29”
* Nadal’s balls are landing too short
* Nadal’s serve just isn’t getting it done
* Nadal’s forehand appears to have lost that “pop”
* Nadal’s now longer winning as many of those big points he use to
* And with every mounting loss he’s losing that locker room edge
OK, Fognini is a good player, though he had just six wins on the year coming into the week including one over Nadal in Rio. But heck, Nadal can’t even get a set against him on clay in Barcelona? And this is the same Fognini who was down a break and 2-0 to a 17-year-old yesterday. Not to mention all the errors Rafa was making which had absolutely nothing to do with Fabio.
That was 30 errors, 17 winners and just 3/14 break points today for Nadal. That’s, as he said, a “disaster”.
So a Rafa slump it is. But it’s nothing new for top guys.
We saw Roger Federer go through a similar slide and he came out of it for the better. Pete Sampras couldn’t win a match in the summer of 2002, then won the US Open. Andre Agassi famously fell so far he had to play Challengers before recovering.
And remember, Rafa is using a new racquet. So maybe he’s still adjusting to it. Or maybe he’ll return to the old one? He says he can’t get the power.
“I didn’t have enough power or speed on my forehand,” Nadal said. “I didn’t have control of the points with my forehand. When I was in good positions, I couldn’t push Fognini back. When that happens, my game can’t hurt my opponent. That was the case today.”
If there’s hope – and there is – the French Open doesn’t begin for another month. And Rafa does have Madrid and Rome ahead. The confidence issues can also get rectified in time, and he is healthy at least, but right now things are not looking good at all for the French. Not one bit.
Rafa has 1,600 points to defend at Madrid (win) and Rome (finalist), so we can forget about him getting a Top 4 seed in Paris. That’s gone. Adios.
And forget about beating Novak Djokovic at the French. That’s a pipe dream right now. I’ve always said Rafa’s greatest friend was best-of-5 set format on clay. Not it could be his greatest enemy. If he can’t even win one set against a guy like Fognini, how’s he going to win three against Novak?
I don’t know.
What I do know is Rafa’s getting older, his body isn’t recovering like it did and he’s played a hell of a lot of tennis in his day. The clock doesn’t stop, it doesn’t slow down, it doesn’t care who you are or what you’ve done or how big your forehand is. It just keeps ticking.
“This is a blow for me, but I accept the challenge and the negative day I had today,” Nadal said. “There is no other way forward other than to accept it or die.”
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