What Rafael Nadal Must Work on Before Contending for French Open

Rob Goldberg@TheRobGoldbergFeatured ColumnistFebruary 11, 2013

June 11, 2012; Paris, FRANCE; Rafael Nadal (ESP) poses with the winner's trophy after the men's singles finals of the 2012 French Open against Novak Djokovic (SRB) at Roland Garros.  Nadal won 6-4, 6-3, 2-6, 7-5. Mandatory Credit: Susan Mullane-USA TODAY Sports
Susan Mullane-USA TODAY Sports

Rafael Nadal lost in both the singles and doubles finals of the VTR Open. The defeats show that he still has a long way to go before competing with the best players in the world.

Considering this was his first tournament in seven months after a long-term knee injury, some rust was expected. However, it was clay court against a weak field, something that Nadal should have dominated regardless of status.

Fortunately, he still has three months before the next Grand Slam event. The Spanish star would love to continue his success at the French Open, but he will struggle if he does not improve in these areas.



This is probably the biggest factor that will be tested over the next few months as he returns from his knee injury. After the loss, he told the media (via CNN):

The knee is still bothering me, but you have to face adversity with the best possible face and look forward to keep working and enjoy what I like the most, to play tennis.

A week ago we didn't know how the body would respond.

This recovery will obviously take baby steps, but it was very apparent on the court that he was not the same Nadal that has won 11 Grand Slam titles.

He was slow around the court, and that is something that will certainly be tested when he faces the likes of Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray.

Until he builds up his knee strength, it will be tough for Nadal to beat any top players.


Return Game

In the singles finals, Horacio Zeballos was able to do almost whatever he wanted with his serve. 

The Argentine had 12 aces, won 77 percent of points on his first serve and 71 percent on his second serve.

This was very concerning for Nadal fans, as this has been the strength of his game for years. In 2012, no player on tour won a higher percentage of return games.

However, he was unable to get break points consistently in the VTR Open, and that ended up being his downfall. 

A lot of this could be attributed to rust after missing so much time. Still, watching his strength turn into a weakness could end up destroying his overall game.



After missing seven months of competition, it is understandable to be a little behind in conditioning.

Nadal was unable to keep up in the final set against Zeballos and fell 6-4 to lose the match. This was after each of the first two sets went to a tiebreak. 

The elite player knew what he was getting into when he signed up for both the singles and doubles competitions, but it seemed to be too much for him. By the time the finals came around, he did not have the energy to compete. 

Of all of the problems that Nadal displayed, this is likely the least concerning. He has also been in great shape, allowing him to finish off his competition late in matches.

Then again, it showed that he is still a long way from contending with the best in the world. A few more tournaments of improved play will likely be needed before he can get back to the top.