Lets Play Devils Advocate: Rafa Won't Win Again in 2012
Yesterday, I ranked the top five clay court players ever. It's really just a list of the top four clay players ever; everyone knows Rafael Nadal is number one. The other four are just, well, pretty, pretty good on clay.
But just for kicks, why not play a little game of devil's advocate? What are some reasons why Rafa will not win a Grand Slam in 2012?
It's sort of a silly argument. There are plenty of reasons why he will continue to dominate, or at least take home his seventh French Open trophy in a few weeks.
But it's rarely fun to read why the best will win.
Instead, here are some reasons why Rafa is going down. Down. Down. Down.
Novak Djokovic remains the number one player in the world.
Last I checked, Novak Djokovic is the number one player in the world. And how does that saying go? "To be the best, you have to beat the best?"
Doug Collins, the coach of the Philadelphia 76ers, had a great quote to Dei Lynum of CSNPhilly.com following his team's series-ending loss to the Boston Celtics on Saturday night: "It is great to be an overachiever, that’s great, but to be a champion you can’t overachieve."
In other words, Nadal may look better as of late, but is he playing at a level high enough to win another Grand Slam this year?
If Nadal is the "King of Clay," why did he lose three weeks ago in the ATP World Tour in Madrid in the round of 16 against fellow Spaniard Fernando Verdasco? The tournament was on clay.
He hasn't exactly proven himself among the top players this year, with losses to Andy Murray in the semi-finals of the ATP World Tour in Miami in March and two weeks earlier to Roger Federer in the semi-finals of the ATP World Tour in Indian Wells. He also lost to the brash Frenchman Gael Monfils in the semi-finals at Doha in Qatar in February.
In short, Nadal has been a shadow of his former self.
Djokovic, meanwhile, has been unstoppable. He won ten tournaments in 2011, including Grand Slam wins at Wimbledon, the Australian Open and the U.S. Open. Here are a few people you may have heard of commenting on Djoko's play all last season. Let's start with none other than...
Rafael Nadal: "Probably the highest level of tennis that I ever saw."
Pete Sampras: "One of the best achievements in all of sports."
Boris Becker: "One of the very best years in tennis of all time. May not be the best statistically, but he’s beaten Federer, he’s beaten Nadal, he’s beaten everybody that came around to challenge him in the biggest tournaments in the world."
This year, Djoko kicked off 2012 by winning the Australian Open, and went through some pretty tough competition to win it: Lleyton Hewitt, David Ferrer, Andy Murray and then (I hate to rub it in the face of Nadal fans), Rafael Nadal in what was the longest final in Open Era history.
Did that signify a changing of the guard?
Besides, Djoko knows he's got a lot at stake at this French Open. If he wins, he will have his career Grand Slam. Nadal nor Federer could boast what Djoko could -- four consecutive Grand Slams.
Although he defended his title in Miami, Djokovic did lose to Nadal in the Monte Carlo final and again at the Rome Masters final. But when the stakes are the highest, as they were most recently at the Australian Open, Djokovic seems to have Nadal's number as of late.
It's been a subpar year for Rafael Nadal.
One of the hallmarks of a champion is the ability to stay away from making excuses in the face of defeat. Every great player has this trait, gesturing literally or figuratively a tip of the hat when appropriate. Nadal has always been that way but he raised eyebrows earlier this month with comments he made following a loss to fellow Spaniard Fernando Verdasco in Madrid.
Nadal was out of his comfort zone, playing on blue courts that he found to be very frustrating. As Raphael Minder of the New York Times reported on May 10, Nadal told reporters following the loss that if the tournament doesn't switch back to its regular clay surface next year, "it will be one less tournament in my calendar."
Movements are very important for me, and here I cannot move,” Nadal said in a news conference. “Control comes from the legs, and here you can’t get it.”
Never mind that he got beat by Verdasco 6-3, 3-6, 7-5. Is Nadal starting to make excuses for his sub-par play? Two years ago, would he have threatened to no longer play in a tournament if it didn't conform to his standards for success?
He's not one to complain but it's pretty clear Nadal is not in his normal mentally tough state of mind.
What will be the excuse this year if he loses the French Open?
Are injuries still a factor for Rafa?
Rafael Nadal has been dealing with severe tendinitis for years now. He had taken off the entire month off February to deal with his knee issues, but that didn't seem to help as he ended up withdrawing from the Sony Ericsson Open in Florida two months ago.
It was a dark time for Nadal, who told Greg Garber of ESPN.com in March that he's not his normal self and that the pain is "growing worse every day."
"I am not ready to compete," he said, "and I cannot go on court and lie to everybody. That's the thing today."
Garber went on to say that playing through injury is something we've been accustomed to seeing Nadal do, but clearly he was in a lot of pain just two months ago and it's making people wonder if he'll be able to return to his old, dominant self.
"Historically, Nadal is a good soldier, often playing in pain. This is only the second walkover of his career, going all the way back to 2004 in Estoril, Portugal, when he pulled out of a semifinal match with a stress fracture in his left ankle—an injury that forced him to miss what would have been his first French Open."
Nadal will have to be in rare form over the next few weeks if he hopes to capture his seventh French Open title. Will he win it all or will these nagging injuries play a role down the stretch when the field starts to get tough?