All great athletes rise, all great athletes fall. Falling and failing, that’s what’s happening right now to Rafael Nadal.
Earlier today, as many of you saw, Nadal was sent out of Wimbledon for the fourth year in a row by a player who had no business beating a former No. 1. After head-scratching losses to Lukas Rosol, Steve Darcis and Nick Kyrgios, today the man who ended his grass season and effectively ended Nadal’s hopes of ever winning another Wimbledon, was Dustin Brown, a 102nd-ranked journeyman best known for having dreadlocks and once playing the tour out of a van.
The same issues that plagued Nadal all season once again spelled the demise of the Spaniard today. Brown did what he was supposed to do, pump the serve, play aggressive, keep the points short and close if given the opportunity. Brown checked all four boxes.
But Nadal just couldn’t find the range. Balls were carelessly sprayed, balls were landing short, his court positioning was poor, and he just couldn’t make the passing shots when he had to. On numerous occasions, Rafa couldn’t even manage to get a basic ball back. And sometimes the only thing he could hit with his racquet was his body.
Nadal once was on top of the world, threatening to eclipse Roger Federer’s greatness. Now he’s having trouble even to reach a round where he’d play Federer.
In the last year since winning the French Open, Nadal has just two titles in Buenos Aires and last month in Stuttgart, both over mediocre fields. Against his rivals, he’s been a shadow of his former self.
Since winning the French 15 months ago, he hasn’t beaten a Top 5 players, hasn’t made a Slam semifinal nor has he won a European clay title.
Of course Nadal has the experience and the talent to get back up to the top, but there’s been little evidence of that this season. Sure, guys can rebound and reboot. That happens all the time. Federer went through a slump, Murray’s had issues, and they got through.
Andre Agassi dropped to the challengers before roaring back, returning to greatness into his 30s.
Nadal’s case is vastly different, though.
Rafa isn’t even 30 yet, but unlike Agassi, he’s put more miles on his tires than most at that age. And unlike Federer, who plays a graceful, effortless games, Nadal puts his body through hell in every match.
Agassi, Federer and Murray also sought outside help when needed, bringing in new voices to help improve game. Nadal, however, has always been under the watchful eye of his uncle Toni and no one else. It’s hard to imagine him changing this now. It’s family first for Rafa.
So is this it for Rafa? Are his days of eating Grand Slam trophies and challenging for No. 1 over? Will he ever make another big final, or contend for major titles?
Sadly right now, everything points to no, no?
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