Rafael Nadal – the downturn

Rafael Nadal - Im Sog des Negativtrends

Early out of the Australian Open

Rafael Nadal was eliminated in the first round of the Australian Open. The Spaniard is far from his best form and it seems as though he has a hard time getting back on track.

As Rafael Nadal left the Rod Laver Arena, he looked like the loneliest person in the world. There were hardly any people cheering for the Spaniard on the narrow corridor to the dressing rooms. Nadal, the former ruler of the tennis world stared, silently to the floor and left the place of failure as a seemingly broken man.

It was in many ways a shocking defeat of the 29-year-old tennis player in front of his compatriot and friend Fernando Verdasco. “That was unexpected; of course it hurts,” Nadal said after he’d had a few minutes to think it through.

Not that Verdasco is a bad tennis player, quite the opposite. The 32-year-old player was simply too good this afternoon in the decisive moments, at 7: 6 (6), 4: 6, 3: 6, 7: 6 (4), 6: 2. A few years ago, Nadal would never have had this kind of problems. He would rather have been the one to increase the pace and suffocate his opponent in the heat of Melbourne. But this time it was Verdasco Nadal who scored especially towards the end of the encounter.

Nadal seemed especially drained and helpless in the last part of the match. “It’s very different than a year ago. Then I came with a bad feeling and was not prepared. This time I’ve been been training a lot and felt ready,” Nadal said visibly dismayed about the defeat.

A player who had it all

This honest self-reflection is a particularly poor message to send out. With a total of 14 Grand Slam titles, the Spaniard was cherished by the experts for a long time. It is doubtful whether he can once again reach the top level. Meanwhile, Nadal seems to distrust himself already.

His strong fast game, his extraordinary topspin, his extreme force into the ground strokes, his above-average physical abilities as well as his unwavering self-confidence had once instilled enormous fear into his opponents and they were often overwhelmed. All these have now seemed to have left Nadal.

Troublesome physical shape

Nadal had a lot of strength and substance over the years. But serious repeated injuries have thrown him off course. After he tweaked his left knee, he then suffered from a lengthy wrist injury. Nadal was sidelined, and he could not, despite many intense workouts, catch up yet. That was especially clear in the Grand Slams last year.

At the 2015 Australian Open, he crashed out in the quarterfinals as Tomas Berdych won in three sets. The same happened at the French Open, where Nadal was once considered invincible. He lost in the quarterfinals with Novak Djokovic in just three sets. At Wimbledon he failed already in the second round to Dustin Brown. At the US Open, Nadal left the tournament, prematurely, after the third round, losing to Fabio Fognini.

Against fearful odds

The trend is against Nadal. The first-off in Melbourne is therefore indeed a renewed, bitter disappointment, but for some time not a sensation anymore. Nadal is still not going to give up, even though he will probably find it very difficult, to reach again his old performance.

The distance to the world number one, Djokovic, is already of more than 11,000 points. At the finals in Doha round, a week ago, a warm-up tournament for the Australian Open, Nadal played against the Serbian player once again (1: 6; 2: 6). No pace, no consistency and the Spaniard has slipped in the fifth place in the world rankings.

“I got my eyes closed and everything just happened” Verdasco told after his victory against his friend Rafael Nadal. In his heyday, Nadal would have known, however, how to make the difference.

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