View Point: Fragile Rafa Loses Down Under
January 29, 2011 · Print This Article
Is it just me, or is it a fact that whenever Rafael Nadal loses in a major he’s injured EVERY time? Can you name the last time Nadal lost at a major and an injury wasn’t part of the storyline? The answer – way back in 2007 – there were the knees (repeatedly), the torn stomach muscle, the exhaustion and now a virus and a hamstring tear. It’s quite the litany.
It will be my lasting memory of this year’s Australian Open – Nadal wiping the tears from his eyes with his taped-up fingers – he looked like a dead man walking – on the verge of tears. He was beaten in all facets of the game – but of course we were all led to believe he lost this match due to injury. Aren’t the Academy Awards later in February? Who are the nominees for leading man in a Grand Slam in Melbourne?
Ok – that might be a tad harsh – but in my opinion, there is more fact than fiction in what I know I saw!
Was Nadal injured? I would say yes, however, I believe he was mentally injured as much as physically. After losing that 17-minute game and dropping his serve and trailing 2-0 in the first set against David Ferrer I believe his mind (which is one of his greatest strengths – especially when facing a break point) let him down. Nadal knew he was in for a dog fight. Nadal could see this was going to be a long battle – and I don’t believe he was in the best state of mind to conquer the task at hand. Nadal’s leg injury was there but it was made worse in his mind by the tough opponent that was standing 80 feet away. I don’t believe Nadal was ready for the long enduring battle that lay ahead. So he packed it in and blamed a slightly torn leg muscle. If he was that injured how did he continue to compete at such a high level?
Nadal was hurt, not injured, and was far from helpless in his quarter final match. He broke Ferrer’s serve three times after the injury. When the ball was in his strike zone, he still managed to hit winners and won 17 of 23 points at net as he attempted to shorten the rallies. This was a match Nadal could have won if he had the correct mind set. No question about it – this is a match he should have won.
This is not to say I believe Nadal is inventing injuries. I’m certain that every time he’s said he’s been injured, he has indeed been injured. But the thing is; every player on tour plays with chronic aches and pains and various niggling injuries. It’s an 11-month season, and the modern game puts incredible stress on muscles, joints, ligaments and immune systems. The turn of the screw comes with how players manage these unavoidable physical stresses. And it seems Nadal doesn’t manage them well at all.
The memory is so crystal clear – his Rafa Slam was evaporating. The 25-match winning streak in Grand Slams and his bid to become the first man since Rod Laver in 1969 to hold all four major titles at once was three games from ending.
He was hurt – how badly we’ll never know. He was down two sets and a break. It was the same court and the same round where he retired in the Australian Open last year. Yet the idea of packing it in didn’t even enter his mind.
“I hate the retirements,” he said, “This wasn’t the day. I did last year. I hate that moment. … Didn’t want to repeat that.”
Six games later, Nadal was out of the tournament, losing 6-4, 6-2, 6-3 to fellow Spaniard David Ferrer on Wednesday in Rod Laver Arena, the center court at Melbourne Park named after the Australian great whose four consecutive majors he was trying to match.
Why is it that when Federer loses he never has an injury? And if he does, we don’t know about it or hear about it until years down the road!
To be a great champion you have to play with injuries, you have to play while you are hurt. Nadal can’t do this. His injuries are often too painful for him to cope and he uses these injuries as an excuse to losing.
Nadal is a fantastic tennis player – and may win more Grand Slams than anybody, however, part of the game is losing with grace and right now Nadal seems incapable of this. Its black and white with him right now – win the tournament or lose due to injury.
I must admit, I am not in his body – so I don’t know the scope of the injury and I don’t know what he is feeling. However, the evidence is there – he is ALWAYS injured when he loses a major. And this trend is becoming tiresome. I am not saying he is faking these injuries but I am saying he is magnifying them as a result of poor mental toughness. I truly believe these injuries are there – but they are not as debilitating as he makes them out to be! Consistently making excuses for Grand Slam losses will only hurt his overall legacy.
To be the greatest player of all time – which is currently Federer by a huge margin – you have to play through the pain/injuries and figure out a way to get it done. With all the injuries and all the excuses, the tennis community is wondering if this guy has what it takes to win 10 more majors. As soon as he hits a bump in the road, he can’t seem to fight through the difficult times and unfortunately for him he uses the injuries as a scapegoat. This will end up costing him the chance at being recognized as the greatest player of this generation or any generation.
Nadal, 24, has an intense, punishing style of play, and his latest injury underscored the durability of Federer, who at 29 is playing in his 45th consecutive major tournament. Federer has proven that his style of play is much more conducive to longevity on the courts and this will definitely be a major factor when we are evaluating the careers of both future Hall of Famers.
Nadal said all the right things in the press conference after the match – but the reality is simple – he can’t seem to ever lose with the other guy playing better than him!
“But you know what, for me is difficult come here and speak about. In Doha I wasn’t healthy. Today I have another problem. Seems like I always have problems when I lose, and I don’t want to have this image, no? I prefer don’t talk about that today. If you can respect that, will be a very nice thing for me. Thank you.”
A virus hit Nadal earlier this month which seemed to have dissipated Monday and was the apparent reason he lost in an Australian Open warm up tournament. The list of recent injuries in the Slams reads like a grocery list.
Nadal battled a stomach injury in his lopsided loss to Juan Martin Del Potro at the 2009 US Open. At the French, that year, it was a knee issue he said derailed his title chances in a loss to Robin Soderling. And of course a year ago, in the 2010 Australian Open, his knee flared up in the quarterfinals on this same day (Australian Day) to Andy Murray. In 2008 his losses in the Slams were due to exhaustion. The list goes on and on and on! And quite frankly it is getting to be a joke.
Call it bad luck, over playing, poor training, or whatever you want – the Spaniard to some degree is simply snake bit or mentally fragile. And if this trend continues the Rafa Slam and the talk of the greatest player of all time will go out the window.
Nadal doesn’t exude the fighting image of a Jimmy Connors from the 70s, 80s and 90s. Simply put, he’s not as confident. He is famous for being a warrior — when he’s physically at 100 percent. He’s got game up the ying-yang, but mentally — emotionally — he depends on pure physical strength for his confidence. He learned early in his career that he could beat the best player in the world — Roger Federer, then clearly better than Rafa — on raw power and will.
That attitude is ingrained in him. It doesn’t matter if he’s got more talent, more shots, more everything than his opponent; he believes that he wins with blunt force. So when he’s physically off, however slightly, his confidence evaporates. Whatever injury is affecting him becomes larger and larger in his mind until, by the third set, he isn’t even moving for shots he could easily get to.
That’s going to be a big problem for Nadal as he moves into the second half of his career — where Federer is now — and younger, stronger, healthier players start regularly pressing him to reach to his physical limits and beyond.
Michael Emmet is the Head Tennis Professional of Mayfair Lakeshore Racquet and Fitness Club.