World No. 2 Rafael Nadal suffered a surprise second round loss (7-6, 4-6, 4-6, 6-2, 4-6) to Czech Lukas Rosol on Thursday evening at the All England Club.
Rosol, ranked 100th in the ATP tour rankings, became the lowest ranked player to send the Spaniard packing at a Grand Slam tournament. This loss marks the end of a streak of five finals in five Wimbledon tournaments for Nadal.
Nadal has had an up-and-down 2012 season, but no one would have predicted a second round exit for the Spaniard. Back in March, after withdrawing from the Sony Ericsson Open with a knee injury, Nadal seemed to be destined for a repeat of 2009 when he suffered his only loss at the French Open and was forced to withdraw from Wimbledon due to injury.
Since then, Nadal has gone on to win four clay court titles, including Roland Garros, in dominating fashion.
Many times, an upset signals a changing of guard (as when 19 year-old Roger Federer defeated seven-time champion Pete Sampras), or the end of an era (think Sampras losing to No. 145 George Bastl at his last Wimbledon appearance in 2002).
Nadal, at 26 and a finalist in each of the last five Grand Slam tournaments, is still at the peak of his career. For those of you who think the hierarchy of men’s tennis is about to change, here’s a list of reasons why that’s not about to happen anytime soon.
1. Nadal Didn’t Play a Bad Match
Upsets usually require an off performance by the higher ranked player. This wasn’t the case here. Nadal served extremely well, tallying up 19 aces and winning 73 percent of his service points. Unfortunately, his opponent served even better. Rosol served up 22 aces and averaged a service speed of 124 mph. Nadal didn’t get too many looks on Rosol’s service games, conjuring up only four break point opportunities. Nadal’s loss had more to do with his opponent’s inspired play than it did with his own.
2. Nadal is a Clay Court Specialist
It’s not unusual to see Rafa go from playing on the hard courts of North America, to clubbing guys on the red dirt of Europe. Rafa is comfortable on clay the second he steps out on it. The same can not be said about making the transition from clay to grass.
Rafa usually loses in the early rounds of his pre-Wimbledon tune-up tournament and cites struggling to find his feet on grass as the culprit. If Rafa can make it past the first week of Wimbledon, and he usually does, he starts to play his best grass-court tennis. So, while it is a surprise to see Nadal go out early, if he’s going to be upset at Wimbledon, it would have to be in the first week.
3. Nadal Has Always Struggled Against Big Men
Big servers have a way of making Nadal uncomfortable. Their big serves create fast points making Rafa’s speed and fitness a non-factor. Last year, John Isner was able to push Nadal to five sets on his favorite red-clay courts of Roland Garros.
The tennis gods were unkind to Nadal when they loaded his section of the draw with guys who know how to dish out double-digit aces.
4. Nadal’s Dominant Performance at the French Open
Nadal’s performance at the French Open summed up what men’s tennis could look like for the next few years.
Nadal has undoubtedly been the best player on clay for the last few years. With Federer entering the twilight of his career, Novak Djokovic has succeeded him as the second-best clay court player on tour.
When Nadal and Djokovic play on other surfaces, it always makes for a gripping contest. The top-two ranked players have had a stronghold at the top of the men’s game (meeting in four straight Grand Slam finals), and no one has been able to consistently challenge them to shake up the way men’s tennis has been over the last two years.
5. Nadal’s Fighting Spirit
Nadal is too much of a warrior to let this loss affect him in any significant way.
How many times have we seen Rafa pick his head up after a bad loss and move on to greater things? In 2007, after losing a heart-breaking five-set thriller at Wimbledon, Nadal came back the next year to end Federer’s grass court supremacy. After an injury-plagued 2009, Nadal enjoyed one of the finest seasons in history, winning three of the four majors in 2010. This year, after losing the longest Grand Slam final ever, Nadal dominated Novak Djokovic in three clay court finals, including the French Open.
Nadal has come back from adversity so many times before. We would be brash to think he’s going anywhere after his latest loss.