Rafael Nadal: What's the Deal, Rafa?

Thomas VazquezCorrespondent IApril 26, 2009

BARCELONA, SPAIN - APRIL 25:  Rafael Nadal of Spain reacts during his semi-final match against Nikolay Davydenko of Russia on day six of the ATP 500 World Tour Barcelona Open Banco Sabadell 2009 tennis tournament at the Real Club de Tenis on April 25, 2009 in Barcelona, Spain. Nadal won the match in two sets, 6-3 and 6-2.  (Photo by Jasper Juinen/Getty Images)

All is not well in the Nadal camp.

Sure, to the casual fan Nadal is still steamrolling opponents on clay, but to the ardent follower of tennis we can see that there is a problem.

We have to remember that we are addressing problems on Nadal’s level here. I am fairly confident in saying that no matter what Nadal’s issue is, there are about 100 men on the tour who would like to have that problem.

The problem surfaced in Key Biscayne.

After his loss to Juan Martin Del Potro, Nadal exclaimed, “its personal.”

The Nadal camp, ever quick in their damage control, quickly said that it was a bad translation and that Nadal meant his issue was personal to the match.

The problems continued in Monte Carlo. His serve was erratic and his play was un-Rafa like.

He hoisted the trophy after a tense final against Novak Djokovic.

After the match Uncle Toni exclaimed, “Rafa needs to pick up his game.”

Very odd that Uncle Toni speaks negatively about Rafa, especially after a win.

Nadal then proceeded to Barcelona, where again he hoisted the trophy after a tight second set against David Ferrer.

He was broken three times and could not find the range on the clay court for much of the match.

Hard to analyze a problem when Nadal has won the last two tournaments he has entered.

I will try.

I can see four possible reasons why Nadal may not be playing as well on his native clay as years past.

First, Nadal’s opponents have taken note of Djokovic’s success in the second set of the Monte Carlo tournament.

The second set saw a total of four groundstrokes directed at Nadal’s forehand.

The majority of Djokovic's groundstrokes found their way to the Nadal backhand. Often viewed as an underrated weapon in the Nadal arsenal, it is also his weaker wing as he has difficulty creating pace off the backhand side, especially with a power hitter like Djokovic.

It possibly could be that this is a way to attack Nadal on clay.

Second, perhaps something is really wrong with Nadal, whether it is physical or mental.

On the physical side, many have noted that he has removed the tape from his knees. Maybe this is hindering his movement.

There are also the recurring foot problems that Nadal has encountered much of his career. He has not yet switched his shoes to the new Nike signature shoe made specifically for him.

Nadal encountered foot troubles a year and a half ago when he made the switch to the current shoe.

On the mental aspect, rumors have swirled of personal complications with his family. Some say divorce, some say issues with Uncle Toni. I did find it odd that Uncle Toni did show up to Key Biscayne as he usually takes the tournament off and stays in Spain.

Perhaps he has something else going on in his head. Maybe he broke up with his girlfriend. The possibilities are limitless, but we have to remember that Nadal is a young man and will encounter all the problems accustomed to being a young man.

Third, perhaps Nadal is bored on the court and trying to conserve energy.

He knows what it takes to win and can probably tailor his game to utilize as little energy as possible to beat his opponents.

Watching both finals, it seems that Nadal was truly never worried about the possibility that either Djokovic or Ferrer could beat him on clay.

Boredom comes when you know that you are far superior to others on clay and don’t have to be at peak performance to win.

Fourth and finally, perhaps Nadal is playing to the level of his competition. He knows he does not have to play any better because their best is not good enough to beat him.

It sounds far fetched, but even at his best, no one has been able to beat him this year.

Bottom line is that complacency leads to huge upsets.

Ask Boris Becker after his famous loss at Wimbledon.

With Roland Garros around the corner, it should be interesting to see which Nadal shows up.