Rafael Nadal: Repeat of 2008 in Order?
It's a common occurrence in the game of tennis.
Blowing things out of proportion, that is. And I admit I have been at fault a time or two.
When a player slips out of form, succumbs to injury, posts a few bad results, is absent from the tour for any extended period of time, or just simply is out-of-character, everything seems to hit the fan.
Past examples include those who wrote off Roger Federer after his bout with mono and subsequent losses at the French Open, Wimbledon, and then the following year in Australia in 2009.
Many in the media doomed Federer and left him for dead, claiming he would never hoist the trophy at the French Open or reach Pete Sampras' record 14 Grand Slam titles.
But here we are just a mere year-and-a-half later, and Federer is sitting pretty at 16.
More recently, Rafael Nadal and his chronic knee tendinitis have been the subject of much debate. As with Federer, the doubts crept into the media, and the extent of his "downfall" was blown out of proportion.
Rafael Nadal arrived at the French Open carrying with him three clay-court Masters 1000 Series titles. He mowed through the competition all the way from Monte Carlo to Madrid, employing the same tactics of old, along with a new, more aggressive baseline offensive.
On Tuesday, Nadal dispatched Frenchman wild card Gianni Mina 6-2, 6-2, 6-2 on court Suzanne Lenglen.
The Frenchman swung freely the entire match, employing the same strategy as Robin Soderling did just a year ago, when he knocked off the King and ended his winning streak on clay. Mina went for every possible shot, blasting enormous forehands and backhands at every possible opening Nadal gave him.
That's just the way it is with Nadal: Turn your shots into quick winners, or you are going to be run ragged all afternoon.
However, the Frenchman was not the least bit intimidated to be playing his second ATP Tour level event at the French Open, standing on the other side of the net from its four-time champion—arguably the best clay-court tennis player ever.
Though he gave it everything he had and actually held Nadal on court for a decent amount of time considering the final score, the new Nadal is just that good.
Nadal committed 28 unforced errors, and said he thought he played bad and was just happy to be through to the next round.
The reason Nadal is through to the next round is simple.
He won nearly all of the big points, putting on a great display of clutch tennis, and demonstrating how to win by a large margin, even when he wasn't near his best.
That clutch tennis is what allowed Nadal to grab the fifth set in both the 2008 Wimbledon and 2009 Australian Open Finals when he took down Federer—often posting a higher break-point percentage
True, Nadal was facing off against a 655th-ranked wild card who had never seen this stage before in his life. However, the fact remains that Nadal crushed the Frenchman even though he threw everything he had at him—and Nadal played what he considered to be bad tennis.
There is no doubt about it. The new Rafael Nadal has returned to the tour looking scary good.
He has added a new, more aggressive offensive approach, improved volleying skills, and added an even more penetrating forehand to his already nearly-impossible-to-beat defensive skill set he used to rely on when he tirelessly ran down every ball to win his first few French Open titles.
Nadal says his knees feel great, and with Federer finding his form, I think we are in for a repeat of 2008.
I'm not trying to discredit Federer and say that Nadal is going to steamroll through Wimbledon (though he looks as though he may do just that in Paris).
But the Nadal I have been watching this past month looks even better than the Rafa that completely dominated the tour in 2008.
With his much more laid-back, rest-inducing and forgiving schedule—along with new weapons and a tighter, increasingly aggressive approach at the baseline—I think Nadal will be able to do more damage in the hard-court season than even in years past.
I think it would be crazy to say Nadal ends his career empty-handed at the U.S. Open.
Look out, Roger!
It will be great to see what the world No. 1 can come up with to hold onto that No. 1 ranking that is in severe jeopardy over these next few tournaments.
On a similar note, the rest of the season will be very interesting. Whether it be the French Open, Wimbledon, or most curiously, the U.S. Open (the one Slam Nadal has yet to snatch), it is great to have Rafa back.
We will all be eagerly waiting to see where this rivalry goes from here.
Or, just maybe, I'm blowing things out of proportion.
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