Rafael Nadal Redux: Is He Really Done For?
by Sean Randall | January 20th, 2016, 12:59 pm
  • 54 Comments

I didn’t see Rafael Nadal lose live the other night at the Australian Open first round, but I caught it on the DVR replay. Credit to Fernando Verdasco who seemed to be on a mission to get revenge for that tough 2009 loss in the semifinals. And not only did he get it, he gave Rafa a loss that he’ll be thinking about for a long, long time.

After a tough first nine month of 2015 culminating with that horrible collapse to Fabio Fognini from up two sets at the US Open, Nadal started to play better again in the fall. He started beating Top 10 guys, competing well, getting length on his shots and playing with confidence. He wasn’t back, but he was better.

But Tuesday’s loss crushed all that progress. It took 4 hours, 41 minutes to undo all the work he had put in to get back to some kind of form. Only it was worse.

The balls were landing short, the serve has no zip and then in the end with a 2-0 lead, he just didn’t have the belief he could win. All those losses like to Fognini, to Dustin Brown at Wimbledon bubbled-up and choked him in the end.

From 2-0 up in the fifth Rafa lost six straight games to Verdasco. Granted Verdasco played well, but Rafa teed him up and Fernando swung away and connected.

And so another early Grand Slam exit, this his earliest ever at the Australian Open and just his second of his career in the first round at a Slam.

What’s stunning about this decline is it’s happening while Rafa’s healthy. For the better part of his career it seems all we talked about were those damn knees or some other ailment. Not so during the last 12 months.

Again, bizarre.

So Rafa will now head to South America, maybe win a title or two if he’s lucky, but the reality is he’s not getting any younger and he’s lost that fear factor, even on clay. Maybe he gets some outside coaching help which I think would help, but I doubt that happens.

And I can say now he’ll never get to No. 1 again, not with Novak Djokovic playing like he is. And unless he can get some length on his shots, he’s not going to win much on clay either.

That said, the good news is I think this is still a mental thing. The bad news is that this is a mental thing. Who really knows how long it takes for him to recover from this latest defeat. The next time he plays a quality opponent in a Slam that mind is going to start spinning again and he’ll fall apart again, right before our eyes.

And the real problem for Nadal is he’s not getting any younger. He turns 30 in June. That’s right THIRTY! So even if he eventually does get his head straight, it might be too late. His body may have long given in to all the miles.

I just hope I’m wrong.


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54 Comments for Rafael Nadal Redux: Is He Really Done For?

Ben Pronin Says:

Do you really hope you’re wrong?

I’m glad you didn’t say “let’s wait until clay” like everyone else. There’s nothing to indicate he’ll do any better on clay.

The serve is as weak as ever, forehand is as inconsistent as ever, backhand remains inconsistent as always, he’s a little slower, hits with a little less pace than before. It’s not just mental. Ever since Nadal became a top player everyone was saying his career would be cut short due to the physical nature of his game. This is what’s happening. It’s just happening way later than originally expected. And Nadal has seemed to defy the odds before.

But in retrospect, perhaps missing all that time actually extended his career. He had a crazy 2008 that was also an Olympic year. He won a ton of matches, and a handful of really, really exhausting ones. He continued this form into 09 until he burned out basically during the clay season. Misses a few months, comes back a shell of his former self until he plays himself back into form. Another great run in 2010. A really large number of physical matches against Djokovic in 2011. More great form in 2012 until the injury. Had he played through his injuries, he might have retired in 2012 instead of coming back. 2013 he plays great again and injuries creep up in 2014. And here’s the result.

Countless injuries, time spent on and off tour, a predisposed mentality to fight as hard as possible. It’s draining. It looks more like he’s hit a physical wall and as hard as he tries fight past it mentally, his body won’t let him. Muscle memory is arguably the most important thing in tennis and his muscles are giving out. The crazy inside out forehands he hit down break point in the 5th set that would land smack dab on the corner are now falling in the middle of the court instead.


MMT Says:

I agree that Nadal’s main problem is primarily he erosion of his physical capacity, which was always a key success factor for him. Having said that, I still feel he’s a better player (technically and as far as his innate talent is concerned) than he gets credit for, and as such he could still make adjustments to make himself more competitive at the majors.

I’d like to see him adopt his grass court game (which is flatter, more offensive, with better court positioning and use of his net game) on all surfaces. It is against his nature, but he will have to make this adjustment if he wants to avoid getting blown off the court by players willing to stand on the baseline and dictate until he can’t keep up.


Ben Pronin Says:

It’s all about muscle memory, though. He’d have to start training that way and playing it in his matches. It could also lead to some shitty results, especially in the beginning. It’s not easy for a player of Nadal’s caliber to simply risk losses in trying to adopt a new style.


Chrisford1 Says:

Rafa played better after the USO, but as before the USO, Djokovic was there…to smack him down. The loss to Fognini and Verdasco were bad, but I think the hardest thing is seeing his great rival becoming almost impossible for Rafa to beat.
I think Rafa is a one of a kind player and an all-time great. Good for the game and fans and I would like to see one more great comeback – as long as Nole gets what he is after in 2016.
But on the other hand, we have seen the health woes of pro tennis players that “cope” with injuries and play with chronic probles. On one hand we applaud them for their guts, but grimace at news of the knee surgeries, hip replacements, spinal fusions, special shoes and elbow operations . At least they are not like US style football players or boxers dealing with progressive brain damage from past concussions.
So if Rafa’s future is hobbling around in a walker at 40, not able to turn at the waist, left arm numbness and tennis elbow – unable to live a non-crippled lifestyle, play golf, be on a boat except in a wheelchair – then I hope he quits now to avoid that.


Josh Says:

Rafa needs to make a coaching change. What has he got to lose now? He needs to mix it up and try a fresh approach to his game. Toni isn’t helping him adapt to getting older and trying new strategies.

Nadal cannot be subborn, he need to make a change to stay relevant.


Dave Says:

I feel the same about Nadal with winning majors as I do with Federer. I feel that the only way that Nadal or Federer are winning another major, is if someone else takes Nole out. Neither of them look like they will beat Nole over 5 sets head to head. Watching the Federer match lastnight. As good as his serving was, his backhand was off. It will always be an issue against Nole. He will take it to Federer’s backhand every time during crunch time when he really needs the point.


Pauly Says:

Clay will be the real test … Beating up lower ranked players won’t cut it … Nadal needs to take out Djokovic !
It’s clay … Nadal is the greatest on clay so he should beat Djokovic !
If he can’t then it’s time to look in the mirror


Dave Says:

Nadal will still win other tournaments, no doubt about it. Even if Nadal gets his forehand back at full strength and his overall game back at full strength, he can’t run as fast as he used to. It seems obvious that he is slower now around the court. He would need every bit of that old speed to beat Nole at this point.


Pauly Says:

Dave

Great post
Speed is biggest factor in Nadal’s game
That lightning foot speed won him so many majors
It’s gone sadly


Dave Says:

I went back and watched almost and hour of highlights from the semi-final between Nadal and Nole, and your watching it and wondering, how does Rafa win these matches? He needed every little bit of that foot speed at the time. If he had been slower even by fractions of seconds, he would have lost certain points and not won that match. Nadal and Nole were so equally matched back than, only because of Nadal’s foot speed. I still feel Nole is better now than back then and could take the upper hand in matches against Nadal even if Nadal was in his prime. They would still be epic, but a few more might have gone Nole’s way. But that’s why learning from experience and developing your game is so important for a tennis player.


Dave Says:

I forgot to clarify. I went back and watched the 2013 French Open Semi-final. Almost an hour of highlights from that match. Even the 2012 match was really good. Rafa was amazing at pulling out these wins when the other guy is hitting the ball so flat like Nole was in both matches. Amazing matches to watch.


AndyMira Says:

Rafa once said,speed is everything in his game..once it’s no longer there,he lost all the confidence and belief to do anything else..and coupled with his still fragile state of mind..fognini and verdasco happened..


AndyMira Says:

I agree with sean that what rafa has been through at this moment clearly some kind of mental thing..and uncle toni already admitted as such last year..but what the question is whether they take any action to deal with it..as i remember rafa clearly refused to think this as something relevent..but from the result recently..relevent definitely a big word here..hopefully they can find something to cure rafa..there’s must be an answer lurking to be found somewhere..just keep find it..


jake Says:

Nadal is done. He can only come back if he changes his style of play and his entire team and that means including uncle tony


Tennis Vagabond Says:

Nadal had two unstoppable weapons: his feet and his mind. The feet are gone and will never come back. But if he gets his confidence back, and can whip that forehand the way he once did, I still believe he can be a force. Just not against Novak, against whom he really needed those feet!


Pauly Says:

Dave

On hardcourts in his prime Djokovic always had the edge
Over prime Nadal … But on clay Nadal was unstoppable in his prime ! Djokovic wasn’t as good on clay … Nadal 9 French opens Djokovic 0
However nowadays clay isn’t gonna save Nadal no more
He will never beat Djokovic on any surface unless he gets new coach to modify his game which won’t be easy at all
Nadal will keep on struggling until the end of his career
What I would do … Tell Nadal to flatten on harcourts completely & improve his serve plus move in closer to the baseline apart from that nothing else can be done !
His foot speed won’t return …


Pauly Says:

Dave

The best match ever Nadal vs Djokovic Madrid 2009
Djokovic Was playing better but still lost even though he won the first set easy … Nadal won two tiebreakers with pure luck
That match ruined both men with Nadal losing to Federer in the final
Watch that match Dave


AndyMira Says:

Crazy double return from andy in 3rd set..what a return..and groth is one the big server..hope andy can go far..now rafa was out ,i don’t mind what so ever for andy to win..he deserve it..and roger also..


danica Says:

Rafa is stil #5 in the world. As of now. In some time, he can climb up the ladder. With that ranking, he is a force and always a contender. That said, agreed that his speed and force are lacking. If the speed cannot be achieved at this stage anymore, his game needs to be adjusted, something else needs to and can be addressed. Maybe less spin, more force, flatter ground strokes? Definitely work on better serving.

Pauly,
Agree on that Madrid match of 2009. That was brutal and beautiful at the same time. I felt sick to my stomach watching Roger smiling with the trophy and feeling it was not deserved. Nothing against him, it was not his problem that Rafa came to that match drained, but somehow I felt cheated. Nobody played Rafa closer on clay than Nole. And no matter the number of RG titles, Nole is the second best clay court player of this generation. Needles to say, that 2009 Madrid semis was the reason both Rafa and Nole underperformed at the RG.


Pauly Says:

Danica

Don’t you miss the glorious battles between Nadal vs Djokovic? I certainly do it was so good when Nadal had foot speed to be able to have huge long battles with Djokovic !
Nowadays Djokovic is too good … Nadal too slow !

Verdasco lost that’s another disappointing effort after he beat Nadal … At least Nadal would’ve beaten Sela .


J-Kath Says:

In re-shaping his game, Rafa should get rid of the touchy feely bits that preface every serve…rather let him concentrate wholly on the ball and not waste nervous energy….a new start that demonstrates commitment and improves confidence:

Then: Does he need a combination of an Amelie and a Lendl? Possibly…one to “bully” him and one to “re-assure” him.


AndyMira Says:

As usual,rafa’s conqueror fell under his spell..no one will escape easily after beating him and verdasco no different..such a shame..but that was expected..fighting with rafa will drained you physically and mentally until there is nothing left to give..at least verdasco steal a set from sela..


danica Says:

It is really a shame for tennis and for tournament and for fans. Rafa loses in 1st but someone like Stephane Robert is fighting for the 4th round. I don’t mean any disrespect for Robert, he deserved to be where he is, but it is hard to think that he is a better player than Rafa or that he would’ve won against Rafa. Also, one cannot but think about Rafa and his team state of mind. How does he feel? What is he thinking? What measures he will take now? How will he approach his next matches? This was a blow to his confidence just when he was starting to “feel it” again.

It is always a deflating feeling for a fan when they see a major player exiting the tournament only to witness his conqueror losing in the next round. I remember Tipsarevic beating Roddick at a Slam and Roddick telling him at the net something like:”Now, don’t go on losing the next round.” Of course, that’s exactly what happened. But I guess, that’s how draws unravel sometimes.


Gypsy Gal Says:

Danica you are ever the voice of reason lol, i cant believe how gutted and so p*ssed off i feel now,first Rafa loses to a good friend and compatriot,then Nando loses a winnable match to Sela pftt,i just feel so cheated by the tennis gods :((….


Gypsy Gal Says:

Sometimes this game really does have a sick sense of humour,i really am so bloody annoyed with Nando now,and especially Rafa GRRRRRR….


Pauly Says:

Nadal would’ve thrashed Sela
He did last year … It’s sad he never had the chance to play on
But that’s life


nits Says:

Nadal game is off in many ways: -
1. serve is weaker now
2. Main problem is during the rallies he is returning in middle of court at the level of service line
Foginini, verdasco will whack you out in five sets
Djokovic in three quick
Federer, murray, wawranika, nishikori in four sets
3. Less angulation in shots
4. Forehand down the line is missing when required & is not up to the level when executed
5. Mental strength is fading now


nits Says:

Because of his poor service rallies will be many & if he keep on hitting them in middle of court nobody can save him
He needs to change angles to make his current miserable game a bit less miserable


nits Says:

People say foginini & verdasco started going for their shorts in last set but who gave them short balls to go fir them


nits Says:

First thing he need to do is to stand one feet ahead while returning
it will reduce although very little but some short balls
next he needs to try to hit flat & with more angulation
stop relying on his top spin much it is not taking him anywhere now


AndyMira Says:

Seeing Lleyton say goodbye to his fan was sad,i can’t imagine how i’m gonna feel when one day see rafa & roger will do the same..and sadly looks like that day is not too far away..


AndyMira Says:

To nits..what you say is all true except rafa is unable to do all the things that you said..his state of mind is too chaotic to think straight at the moment..his mental still damaged and raw from all the painful and humiliating loss that he has to endure entire year last year..and a very painful loss to verdasco just add a salt to the already bloodied wound..so with that said..we can only hope one day he’ll be able to stand up and believe again that he is still capable of winning..


Gypsy Gal Says:

The irony for Rafa is that after all these years on tour he isnt taking time off for injuries anymore,had he been in the situation he is now years ago its probable he wouldve surpassed Roger,which is something even Skeezer alluded to as Federer fan some time ago,you really couldnt make this stuff up….


Pauly Says:

Nits

Good post

I think the biggest problem is speed !
He’s slower & that might be the reason his confidence is low not being able to retrieve most of the balks his opponents hit at him .
I think he can beat Djokovic in Paris if he improves his current game & if he does win his 10th French open what a way to leave tennis !
I recall Sampras won US OPEN against Agassi & retired shortly after … Retire on top what a way to go !

That’s how I want Nadal to go out of tennis on a high note !


Daniel Says:

But this is all food for thought GG, the way he played going deep in several tourneys and contesting for all title was not sustainable of his style. As it is now, the only conclusion we can makes that he was only ablate do that for spams of 6 or 9 months because he had those injury breaks and whatever. Of course now he is healthy but older and more match wounded due to losses. But maybe if he wasn’t injured he would win as much due to burn out. What we have is what happened. He had a very high winning rate in spams (2007 RG to 2008 USO); burn out, back to form beginning of 2009, injury, back to form from RG 10 to USO 10, injury in AO 11′, contesting a bunch of finals in 2011 but Djoko surge, Burn out in 2012, Get back to form in 2013 with 3 to RG 2014 with 3 straights major finals and now, never reached another Slam final in last 7 straights (missing 1 Slam).


Gypsy Gal Says:

Daniel you cant re write history and im not trying to,just examining possibilities here as we all do,it was actually something Skeezer alluded to some time ago,all could,would,should,if and but,and pure conjecture,anyway as a fan im happy enough,even if he does get surpassed,its all good,PEACE and no argument from me anyway….


Pauly Says:

Topspin is not going to win Nadal anything … This is the time to go back to those thunderous flat forehands of 2004 vs Hewitt at the Australian open
Amazing power on those forehands easily 160km

If Nadal doesn’t win any majors in 2016 … What’s the point of playing anymore ? Yes it’s sad but it’s even sadder if he keeps on losing


Daniel Says:

Saw some highlight and the odd thing is he was playing closer to baseline against Verdasco, but his shots just laked power. Maybe indeed is the half foot lost and he is not in position to drive the ball as he likes, but in the past Nadal used to play so deep shots close to the baseline and his FH DTL was pretty on the corners. He doesn’t take the risks anymore.

All good GG. I was also just conjecturing that maybe he was only able to be that successful due to the breaks.

Many thought he would burn out “sooner”. As of now, His last Slam final/win was in RG 2914 when he had just turned 28. He is still playing and top 5, so in a few more times we can look at it again. If he will be able to bounce back or not


Gypsy Gal Says:

I cant keep getting upset about it all anymore Daniel,its just not worth wasting such nervous energy arguing about it from my point of view,ive such alot going on and alot to look forward to this year in my personal life getting re-married etc,that i will just sit back now and let what happens unfold,i enjoy tennis and talking about it,but my life doesnt revolve around it,these guys are all or have been amazing,thats all i will say,PEACE AND ENJOY YOUR DAY….


Giles Says:

alison. Didn’t you say you weren’t going to blog during the AO? What changed??


Pauly Says:

Daniel

No risks on his forehand DTL ? How will be ever beat Djokovic? Nadal must take big risks otherwise keep on losing .
Everyone has had their say on Nadal’s struggles but who can find a solution ? Seriously ? Who ? Only Nadal himself can do that & only with some help from another coach !
I think uncle Toni has seen the writing on the wall & it’s now time to let someone else come in … Who ? Well rumours circulating it’s most likely AGASSI but only rumours at this point ! You see Nadal & Agassi were pretty good friends on the tour so it’s definitely possible but too early to confirm anything .

Something needs to happen pretty fast or this year will be disaster like 2015 …


nits Says:

it’s only Nadal who has to find solution to this carrer threatening poblem not us.
He is miles away from djokovic level.
People are saying who he will beat djokovic??

For me it’s who will he beat Foginini this year on clay?


Pauly Says:

Nits

Nadal needs some help from coach new ideas
But you’re right Nadal is the one who needs to look in the mirror & say I can win !
Fognini on clay is very dangerous
But beating Djokovic is Nadal’s main motivation on clay


frank frankovich Says:

He’s always been a staller. Lays mind games


nits Says:

when it will be done we will see
they need new voice in there camp
It’s time to make your game smarter with increasing age


AndyMira Says:

How come a small guy and less muscle like nishikori can produce such a powerful game?His game makes rafa’s game looks silly right now..oh rafa..what have you done to yourself?


Alexandra Says:

It seems people really can’t wait to bury Rafa, right?

And don’t think to much about what Toni says about coaching change. He knows Rafa will never do that. He just makes sure people know it’s not his decision.

I think it’s too early to tell what happens next. His last 3 slams were really bad, does he want to continue this way? The thing we know is, he won’t give up easily. He had a bad year and was still No.5. So no need yet to think about retirement just yet.


nits Says:

You can evolve or you can die
Nadal is not evolving
If you look around the changes done by other players
Federer went to edberg to improve his attacking game
Djokovic went to becker for serve & MENTAL STRENGTH
nOW WE ARE SEEING A POWERFUL SERVER LIKE RAONIC GOING FOR A CLAY COURT SPECIALIST LIKE MOYA

wHAT IS nADAL DOING????


Giles Says:

nits. You really are the pits. Why are you so concerned about Nadal anyway? Just be quiet and watch how things unfold.


nits Says:

Giles buddy it’s passion


SL Says:

Nadal has been largely past it since losing the 2014 Aussie Open final to Stan (ok ok people can keep saying he got injured, he would have lost anyway). He was somewhat fortunate to win the 2014 French (thank you Novak), but that was his Federer 2012 Wimbledon, Sampras 2001 USO moment come early.

Not enough depth on his shots, not enough timing on the forehand, the serve is down on pace and consistency, not enough foot speed to run down shots and make winners from impossible position as he could, and mentally he looks on tenterhooks all the time, not the confident guy who stepped on the court in his prime, win or lose. Thank you for your contribution to tennis. Bye bye.


Wog Boy Says:

“wHAT IS nADAL DOING????”

I think he is fishing atm, no?

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