Bad Times Continue for Nadal
by Sean Randall | January 6th, 2007, 10:33 am

I see this morning that Xavier Malisse took out Rafael Nadal in straight sets 64 76 in Chennai today. Not a good sign for World No. 2 Nadal, who still has yet to win a title since the French or reach a final since Wimbledon.

The loss also adds further fuel on the fire that maybe the guy’s on the tour are starting to figure him out. ADHEREL

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. (Congrats to Malisse for the win!)

Nadal’s No. 1 shot is that heavy topspin forehand to the opponent’s weaker side, often their backhand wing. But players who can crush winners off their backhands can step and take advantage of that shot, even hitting their reply at Nadal’s forehand forcing the Spaniard to chip return. Guys like James Blake, Tomas Berdych, Mikhail Youzhny have that ability, whereas maybe a Tommy Robredo, Andy Roddick, David Nalbandian cannot.

And then there’s the issue of Nadal’s second serve, which, unfortunately for him, probably isn’t much better than it was a year ago so I’m guessing it’s still sitting up nicely for guys who can hammer big returns, like Malisse.

Now I’m not here bashing the kid – he’s still The Man on clay. And Nadal is still among the quickest (I’d put Federer No. 1), fiercest and fittest players on the circuit, and he’s still very young, so he’s got time to work out the bugs. But it will be interesting to see how he does in Australia where everyone talks about how his spin-heavy game is tailor made for the rubbery courts Down Under.

Just to add, the draw in Sydney doesn’t look good for Nadal as he’s seeded to meet Berdych in the quarters and then Blake or Dmitry Tursunov in the semifinals. He opens with the red-hot serve/volley machine Chris Guiccione who I see is in the Adelaide finale.

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13 Comments for Bad Times Continue for Nadal

Edgar Says:

I’m not sure which draw you are talking about, but the Australian Open draw is not scheduled to be released until Jan 12. If what you are saying were true, however, it would be nice for a change to see Nadal face a tough draw in a major. The draws he got for Wimbledon and the US Open were practically a joke.

Edgar Says:

Nevermind my previous comment, I just realized there is a tournament in Sidney previous to the Australian Open :)

Brad Says:

I think Rafael needs a fresh persepctive in his game, probably a new coach. Toni Nadal has taken Rafael very far, but his tennis future is starting to look very dark… sure he’s the best on clay, but if he keeps losing everywhere else, I find it hard to believe he’ll be confident enough to keep winning on the dirt courts.The short spin shots that work on clay seem to be his biggest weakness on faster courts, and even though he keeps getting outhit on hard courts, he hasn’t made the adjustment in his game.

Al Says:

Nadal doesn’t need a new coach or even a much better second serve. What he needs is to maintain his hunger given the scrutiny and pressure and (as Marat Safin called it) the “temptations” he’ll be facing daily henceforth. Also, keep in mind that on a fast court he shouldn’t necessarily be favoured against Berdych/ Roddick/ Blake (Ljubicic? Mathieu?) type hard hitters.

Fan of Tennis Says:

Al, but he is the #2 player in the world so he will always be seeded in front of the Roddicks, Berdych’s, etc. so based on that – he is the favorite. If he keeps losing, then who is to say he really should be ranked as the #2 player and receive that seeding?

rc Says:

read my blog

luke Says:

??this article is saying blake and youzhny have better backhands than nalbandian? putting nalbandian’s backhand in the same sentence as roddick’s?…give me a break. nalbandian has one of the best backhands out there and hits a ton of winners from that side.

one of nadal’s problems is that he gets too conservative and on hard courts, more aggressive shot makers can give him trouble

Brian Says:

I agree with Luke. Nadal does play too conservatively on hard courts when his confidence isn’t high. When he does commit to playing more aggressively, he does well and is effective. When playing the likes of Berdych, Blake, etc. on hard courts, he needs to step up closer to the baseline and flatten his shots out a bit to keep his opponent from taking the initiative.

bogledance Says:

It’s interesting to go back and watch Nadal’s match against Hewitt at the 2004 AO. Granted Hewitt is not a big server but Nadal was standing much closer to the baseline on returns than he does now, and overall he seemed to be thinking on his feet better. He was lanky and hadn’t yet grown into his body and his shots were not as refined as they are now, but it seems that since then he has become even more defensive and I think that style of play has its limits.

I don’t think it would be a stretch to say that the hype surrounding him in the first half of 2006 may have taken a major toll on his ability to “keep his head in the game” as well.

Jason Says:

At Wimbledon everyone was crazy for Nadal, being able to reach the finals on grass. Since then he has not shown much. However, I think it is too early to say he’s in major trouble. This just follows suit with people jumping on the story of the moment. Remember how Roddick was “done” in the beginning of 2006? Then he won the Master’s and went to the finals in NY. Now, according to those who know, he is back. Let’s just face the fact that those who know, don’t know. Plus, you could do a lot worse than winning the French Open a ton of times. I’d take that career.

Sean Randall Says:

The fact that Nadal sometimes stands so far behind the baseline is certainly part of the equation.

The way I see it, when you are that far back it’s easier to play guys who hit with a lot of spin (Nalbandian, Federer) whereas players who hit it flat and hard (Blake, Berdych) it becomes more difficult and awkward as the ball doesn’t come up into the strike zone as much for Rafa.

The key is getting Rafa to hit that stretch forehand chip reply which, when he does, should give his opponent a good look at an offensive shot.

Players who hit flat and hard can create more of those chances then the spin players.

Brian Says:

The fact is that Rafa ends up so far behind the baseline because Berdych and Blake dictate the majority of points with their flat strokes. They take Nadal’s high bouncing, mid-court balls and flatten them out. Rafa sees this and scrambles back further and further in an effort to chase these balls down, but unfortunately for him, the courts are too quick and he can’t get enough on subsequent shots to climb out of the defensive hole.

Blake and Berdych nullify the Nadal defensive running game by taking Nadal’s ball earlier than most other guys on the tour. When Nadal hits his high bouncing forehand, it serves two purposes. One, he is trying to get the ball to an uncomfortable position for his opponent – over the shoulder. Two, it allows him to recover to a neutral position in the court because of the amount of time it takes for the ball to travel to his opponent and then back.

Blake and Berdych don’t allow either of these two things to happen. They take the ball early, and therefore in their strike zone, and force Nadal to start moving for the next shot before he really wants to. The stretch forehand chip reply that Sean mentioned is simply a symptom of this strategy at work.

jonakaa Says:

rafa will be back in business when the clay season begins

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