This is not a good time to be a part of the Vamos brigade. Rafael Nadal is still not in the form which had almost made him invincible in the earlier part of the year, boasting only a solitary victory out of his last twelve meetings with a player inside top-ten. He continues to suffer against his nemesis Robin Soderling and is starting to wonder the next time he can win a set against Nikolay Davydenko.
Judgments about Nadal being finished are floating around, the criticism of his playing style is more than ever before and when even a respected writer like Pete Bodo could not resist himself in taking a small dig at the Spaniard, one would start to wonder whether Nadal is really finished?
After all, things do become true when repeated a thousand times over, right?
Anyway, lets temporarily forget this so-called disastrous season for Nadal and go back one year to the start of the 2008 U. S. Open series. Nadal came in to the season after winning the Wimbledon just a month back in arguably the greatest match of all times. He was the undisputed king, riding high on confidence and, even though it would be still a week before he would achieve his No. 1 ranking, he was unofficially crowned that title even by the Master himself.
He met Novak Djokovic in the semis of the Cincinnati Masters who was himself having a troubled time after his early loss at Wimbledon. Here are some highlights from the match which Djokovic easily won 6-1 7-5.
Nadal faced an 'In the Zone' Djokovic on the latter's favorite surface, and really had no answer to the Serb's continual attack. The clip is remarkably similar to his match against Davydenko earlier this week where Nadal struggled throughout.
Nadal was unable to flatten his strokes and any short ball was mercilessly dealt by Djokovic while his topspin was ineffective on asphalt. The confident Djokovic aggressively went for his shots which paid dividends in the end.
We can go on and on analyzing his loss against Davydenko—or rather any loss that Nadal has suffered in the last two months—and we can conclusively find glaring similarities in these losses with the one shown in the above clip.
The crux of the matter is that the season post-Wimbledon has never been the strength of the Spaniard, and even during the greatest year of his career, he was winning matches more due to the momentum and confidence gained from the earlier seasons rather than the artillery at his disposal.
Even in these unfortunate circumstances when Rafa had been battling with physical injuries and family problems, he has shown considerable performances by matching his effort at the Flushing Meadows with last year, and has been consistent enough to reach the semis or finals in the tournaments he played after that.
He may have lost some weight, and power baseliners in Del Potro and Cilic might be ascending rapidly, but it does not mean that he will have no answer to them.
The spring hard court season will be very important for Rafa and he will have more affinity towards the surfaces of Australia, Indian Wells and Miami, while he will thrive in the heat and humidity of these places than at the indoor season where fitness becomes much less a factor.
Nadal has forever been known as a fighter. His ground strokes may have deserted him, his topspin on indoor courts may not spit the same venom as other surfaces, his confidence may be at the lowest, but his will to win is still apparent even when all seems lost. Champions find their way out of misery and the man from Mallorca is a proven champion.
It will be premature to write him off based on his post-injury performances at his least favorite surface.