The Rafael Riddle
by Sean Randall | November 13th, 2006, 11:12 pm

So is there anyone on this planet more in need of the clay court season to begin than Rafael Nadal? I mean what is up with this guy? Has his bad outfits finally caught up to him? Is his arm tired from picking at his you know what too many times? ADHEREL

Last time we saw Rafa in bull form he was in the Wimbledon final, giving Roger Federer a decent run. Since then, he’s AWOL. Rafa’s won exactly ZERO titles, reached exactly ZERO finals and advanced to exactly ZERO semifinals through five events.

Okay, he’s banged up, and injured, etc. There’s some of that. But I also think that the boys are starting to clue into his game. Look at the guys he’s lost to since Wimbledon: Berdych, Blake, Johansson, Youhzny and Ferrero. The first three guys can all crush the ball, flat and hard. Youzhny and Ferrero both have excellent backhands that can handle the Nadal spin to go along with penetrating forehands.

Effective styles against Nadal? Would seem so.

You could somewhat see the chinks in the armor back at the French when both Hewitt and Mathieu gave Rafa a good scare. Both guys do not outright crush the ball but they can really whack their backhands pretty effectively and more importantly they can step in and dictate play with it, thus taking away that advantage we’ve seen Rafa have many a foe with that heavy topspin to the backhand.

Remember, Rafa likes to put a lot of spin on the ball especially off that forehand. For those that play tennis, in my mind it’s much tougher to generate such a heavy spin ball like Nadal’s off a low flat ball than a high topspin shot. Keeping the ball flat, hard and low (a la Blake/Berdych and unlike Fed) just might be the answer to solving the Rafa riddle, only time will tell. But you get the feeling that definitely Berdych and Blake both have the solution, and who knows how many others have caught on.

Does that mean Rafa’s finished? Most certainly not. The guy still runs like a gazelle and he’s as fearless and ferocious as anyone. Plus, he’ll kick back with Uncle Toni and work on improving his game in some areas, though I doubt Rafa circa 2011 will be much different than the one we see now.

And of course, he’s still inside Fed’s head, but for how much longer we shall see. Unfortunately for us it doesn’t look like the two will play this week in Shanghai seeing how I don’t think Rafa’s getting to that last four (I hope I’m worng but I think Davydenko and Blake will come out of that group.) And with Nadal only extending his record for consecutive weeks at No. 2, we may have to wait a long long time before the two resume their rivalry since the only way for him to meet Roger will be in a title bout.

Too bad, no?

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27 Comments for The Rafael Riddle

dee king Says:

The obvious is, yes, Rafa’s style is great on “clay’, but watching “Wimbleton”,why doesn’t he keep some of the same technique – cut – off
some of the long rallys, take the ball early to
control it, & volley – you can’t win ALL the time,20 feet from the base line!!!
Maybe it’s time Rafa got a new coach – like Andy;
I’d hate to see such a promising player{remember,
his record at 20 is better than Roger’s at 20]
stuck doing the same things as all the other
young guns catch up & pass him by!!

Dee King

Tejuz Says:

he covers the court very well.. but it will also take his toll as can been seen from the last couple of years where by he gets injured late in the season and doesnt perform. Anyway.. his record against the top 10 players(except Fed at the moment) isnt that impressive, infact he has a losing record against most of them. So… he will surely have a tough time reachin the semis of the masters.

But he always has been lucky with draws in GSlams.. and now in masters cup as well. He isnt up against big servers like ljubcic or roddick and am surely Nalbandian has a backhand which can nullify his top spin forehand.

Yesterday as well.. he got very nervous blowing a 4-0 lead in secodn set. Blake really took the attack to him.

Tejuz Says:

But i would certainly like to see him come down in the rankings so that he wud meet Fed before the finals. Fed will get chances to set their H2H record straight.

ziad Says:

i think his problem is mental and he definetley needs to win a big match to over come it. maybe ur right and he needs a new coach

Seoul fans snapping up tickets for Federer, Nadal clash Says:

SEOUL, Nov 14 (Reuters) – Tennis fans in South Korea are snapping up tickets for next week’s exhibition match between world number one Roger Federer and Spanish rival Rafael Nadal.
Organisers said the hardcourt event at Chamsil Gymnasium in southern Seoul on Nov. 21 had attracted huge interest and that thousands of tickets had been booked weeks in advance.
“A total of 4,000 designated and 900 special seats are sold out as of today,” Lee Seung-hwan, head of the company hosting the event, told Yonhap news agency on Tuesday.
Tickets for special seats were priced at $130 while reserved seats were going for $85.
Federer and Nadal, who are currently in Shanghai for the season-ending Masters Cup, would arrive in South Korea on Monday, said Lee.
South Korea previously hosted an exhibition match between Maria Sharapova and Venus Williams in 2005. (Writing by Peter Rutherford in Singapore)

Lisa Says:

Wow, what an astute analysis on Nadal. Also, remember that Blake can come in effectively at the net more than Nadal can. And, Blake likes to come into the net.

ziad Says:

watever happens he needs to beat robredo tomorow. and who knows it might be the win he needs to clear his system

ben Says:

nadal’s record at 20 being better than federer’s as 20 doesn’t mean anything at all. i think nadal has atleast one good year left in him. he might win a third roland garros but that will be the end of his great career. he’s definetly one of the greatest clay courters to ever live. i wont say best becuz, in the same that federer is criticized, there arent many great clay courters today. i honestly think thats part of the reason federer made such great improvements on clay. 2 years ago he lost in the third round and now hes the second best clay courter, great credit to him, thats what makes him great. but cmon, name some great clay courters today. nadal is one of the greatest either way but his great streak comes from lack of other great players.

achilles190 Says:

I watched Nadal vs Blake …..Blake played wonderful awesome tennis and woudl have give most players trouble……..

THe problem is that Rafael runs straight 12 feet behind the baseline …..wihtout even being forced back…….Even in some rallies were he has the tactical advantage he runs behind the baseline….

It is a mental thing …….he has the reflexes sometimes he woudl need to shorten his swing…..I think if rafael just forced him self to go go forward after hitting shots…..not neccessarily to the net even..that would open up the opportunities for himself and take away opportunities from his opponent…

Even when returning he should vary his stance postion even fake like he is going to chip and charge ……..At times he is a sittign duck……

achilles190 Says:

I do not buy that there are not as good clay court players today as their used to be……I think Rafael is the next generation because of his extreme strength and power coupled with his entusiasm and speed…….

ziad Says:

i think rafareally needs to get a coach like jimmy conors and just sit back and talk about his game plan for the next few weeks. because i dont think the problem is in the player i think its in the tactician.

Lara Says:

Mr. Nadal seems to have lost his way since the Wimbledon Final. However, with his fire, determination and competetive hunger for the game, he will be back. Perhaps it is time for him to change his tactics, time will tell.
Personally, I love him, love him, love him. He brings such excitement to the Sport, the passion just oozes from him….
You can do it Rafael, we KNOW you can!!!!

Dowie. Says:

Uncle Toni needs to study the players who are beating Rafael, Blake three times. What do we have here? What is it that Blake does to damage Rafael. His coach needs to change some things, get other opinions. WAKE UP Uncle Toni.

From Miguel Seabra blogging for TennisWorld: Says:

“…personally I think that right now Nadal is prone to go Hewitt’s way. Nadal — like Seles or the Williams sisters, even Sharapova — plays, or used to play, in some sort of trance. That state is energy sapping. Plus, Rafa is becoming more and more aware of, and thus more vulnerable to, the trappings that surround him: the fame, the media, the money…everything. Also, it’s only natural that as he matures, he tones things down. There are fewer cries of “Vamos!” now (Hewitt has almost entirely abandoned his trademark war cry of “C’mon”) and he seems to have doubts now — it’s only human. Descartes once declared: “I doubt, therefore I exist”. Rafa’s high-voltage intensity once seemed unreal: he was Superboy, a competitor out of this world. Now he’s starting to think too much…and maybe he’s losing his balance.”


I think he’s spot on.
Nadal has not had time to think maturely about Tennis. He needs to take some time off and go off to some place far from his family and friends to clear his mind and rejuvenate himself for the long haul, if he doesn’t want to get burnt out soon. Federer changed when he got the jolt of his life after Peter Carter’s demise. Nadal has to go off somewhere less noisy and think long and hard and come back to realise his dreams.

Seth Says:

Not sure if any one can really say that Nadal is still “inside Fed’s head” anymore. The last time they played (Wimby), Fed had a fairly decisive victory over him. It remains to be seen whether or not Fed’s gotten over that particular mental hurdle. The test, to my thinking, would be a Fed-Nadal meeting on a medium-paced hardcourt. Next time they meet on such a surface, if Nadal emerges the winner, then yeah, he’s still in Fed’s head. If not, I say Fed’s exorcised that particular demon.

ziad Says:

he has a fighting spirit. i think he has to keep the fire blazing and he will conquer in the years to come

SG Says:

I don’t think the edge will fall to Federer merely because he “figures out” Nadal’s game. When Fed and Nadal, the match becomes far less about tennis and much more about a mental war between the two.

Nadal does not enter the match expecting to lose. He enters the match knowing that Fed will be brilliant and he accepts that before he steps on the court. So, when Fed does play brilliantly, he doesn’t look at his opponent in awe. Nadal takes this as part of the challenge. When he beats Fed, he beats him mentally because he brings so much competetive intensity to the court with him. Often, it’s this competetive intensity that Fed cannot match.

Everyone of Fed’s shots is more explosive than Nadal’s. And he an all-court game that dwarfs Nadal’s as well. And yet, he’s 2-6 against the guy and he is in his prime. Why? Nadal never flinches. He never backs down. He never gives up. After being smoked in the first set in final at Roland Garros, he could have packed it up and gone home like many players do when they play Fed. Not Nadal. He battens down the hatches and ratchets up the intensity. It’s an incredible talent. Even at Wimbledon (…on arguably his worst surface), after Fed blew him away in the first set, he didn’t go quietly into the night. He ratcheted up the intensity and gave Fed one hell of a fight.

If Nadal can bring that intensity into 07, there’s no reason he won’t enjoy similar success against Fed. If he doesn’t, it looks like a potential grand slam for Federer.

ben Says:

hmm, i think federer will be upset at the australian open coming up.

SG Says:

It could happen. If Fed is looking forward to the middle of the year and the FO, he could slip at the AO.

JC. Vibar Says:

I guess Nadal has to change his style for those players beating him. If his huge top spin is not effective, maybe a flatter shot will do. Maybe he needs to add some other kind of weapon.

ziad Says:

YESSSS he beat davydenko!!! u have all been talkin about a fed and nadal match ur gonna get ine on saturday. lets see wat happens we can only hope that rafa will bring that itensity u were talking about

skorocel Says:

Dear ziad,

not only your beloved Rafa took a medical timeout only to disrupt Davydenko’s rhythm today, but MOREOVER, he wrote Federer’s surname on the camera and scratched it – that’s what I call a fair sportsman…

ziad Says:

im glad we think alike skorocel. with federer and nadal its a mental game. the first person inside the others head is goin to take the match. may the best mna win.

NoGonad(s)al Says:

It was so sad seeing Nadal being toyed with by Federer with the final score standing at 6-4, 7-5.

Nadal isn’t worth holding the 2nd rank. I hope Blake and Roddick trounce Nadal and become 2nd and 3rd ranked in the coming year. Nadal is all burnt out and he’s looking like a one trick pony now. If he can’t cope the pressure at this age he’s gonna be just another Hewitt. He has the same mentality too; always talking about money and disrespecting Federer while acting all diplomatic in press.

skorocel Says:

Ziad, you know who you are… Remember – such cheaters like you, along with Nadal, will once go down, forever…

Fan of Tennis Says:

Well, Federer just beat Nadal for the 3rd staight time. Sure this last one was an Exhibition in Korea,but he beat him at Wimbledon, Master’s Cup, and now Korea. A win is a win… and that will definitely help Federer the next time they play.

The problem with Nadal is that Federer has been keeping his end of the bargin by getting to the finals. Lately Rafa hasn’t. He’s only been to 1 SF since Wimbledon and that was the Master’s Cup.

In an article on another thread the person did an analysis of play and said with the record Nadal had the 2nd half of the year, he would be no more than the 11th ranked player. He had a fantastic 1st half. To me that says 3 things: (1) more clay court tournaments are in the first half and Nadal thrives on those; (2) with Nadal’s style of play, it could be that he runs out of gas by the time the 2nd half comes;
(3) He still has a long way to go to be consistent on Hard courts.

Those weaknesses could change (personally I don’t want them do being a Federer fan), but Nadal is still young enough. However, I do think he needs to watch the ‘burn-out’ factor because he plays a high-level-energy game and traditionally people like that burn-out faster than someone who plays like Roger or Blake etc.

Bad Times Continue for Nadal Says:

[…] I didn’t watch the match in Chennai (go figure, it’s not on the tube here in the Midwest!), so I can’t really say what happened with any fact. But going into the match Malisse actually matches up well against Nadal. As I wrote back in November, players who have big games with rock-solid backhands (like Malisse) are starting to give Nadal more and more trouble. […]

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