Rafael Nadal shouldn't have dropped to No. 3 in the world rankings because he never should've lost in the third round of the Madrid Open.
The world knows it, and he knows it: If he hadn't been so preoccupied with the new blue courts in Madrid, the outcome of that tournament would've been very different, and he probably wouldn't have fallen out of the top two spots for the first time in two years.
Which is exactly the reason Nadal isn't worrying about it. He knows he never should've lost last week, and he knows that under different—or normal—circumstances, he wouldn't have.
After bowing out of the Madrid Open in the third round at the hands of Fernando Verdasco, Nadal dropped from No. 3 to No. 2 as Madrid winner Roger Federer leapfrogged him to No. 2. Novak Djokovic remained at No. 1.
After the rankings were revealed, Nadal told the Daily News & Analysis:
Being No. 2 or No. 3 isn't going to change my goal. My goal will be the same, No. 2, 3 or No. 10. To win you have to beat the best players in the world. The only change is in the semifinals but it doesn't make any difference.
Nadal learned his lesson last week. Instead of focusing on finding a way to win the Madrid Open in spite of the new blue courts—which seemed to be slippery and harder to move on than the traditional red clay courts—Nadal complained.
He threatened to boycott the tournament. He talked endlessly about how much of a hindrance the change was, how it represented the fact that the tournament impresarios were more concerned about the draw of the courts than their impact on the players.
And as a result, Nadal lost in the third round, to an opponent he'd beaten 13 consecutive times before. His focus was off, and the blue courts got to him. For a moment, he let the big picture fall out of sight; now, he's seen the effect on his performance when that happens.
Nadal told The Independent's Paul Newman, "I don't think about Madrid. I accept that I played badly there and lost because I didn't play the level that I needed to win."
Nadal is smart enough to force himself to remain unperturbed by his drop in the rankings. It's just another unnecessary distraction for him. At this point, the only thing he should be focusing on is beating Florian Mayer on Wednesday at the Rome Masters and setting himself up for another win in the French Open at the end of May.
As long as the Rome Masters—or, eventually, the French Open—isn't played on slippery blue clay, he'll have just as a good a chance of winning as the two players ahead of him in the standings.
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