Rafael Nadal: What Would Constitute a Good 2011?
It's never too late to wipe the slate clean and reinvent oneself—certainly, this must be what Toni Nadal is telling his nephew, world No. 1 Rafael Nadal.
His last three months couldn't have been any worse—four losses in five meetings against his closest rival, Novak Djokovic and two titles from six finals.
This is not the form of a champion.
Speaking after his latest loss to Djokovic in Rome, Nadal said:
“I have been doing everything that I can so I cannot ask myself more. I am trying and I am doing very well, but one player is doing better than me. The champion in my opinion is not only be able to win every week; it is when they are able to wait at the right moments and I am waiting at every week, trying to find solutions, and we will see what is going on next time…I wish him [Djokovic] all the best and I have to wait my moment to win another time.”
Being the big-game competitor that he is, we know he is plotting his next assault. We know he can't wait to win. Winning is his lifeblood.
With his confidence tattered, his effectiveness being questioned and his position at the top of the rankings in jeopardy—what can Nadal do to rescue the situation?
What would constitute a good 2011?
1. Defend His French Open Title
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Roland Garros has proved over the years to be Nadal's fortress—the one frontier where he has managed to maintain a stronghold and he will need it again this year.
With everything to prove in 2010 after his first ever loss at the French Open in 2009 that led to an 11-month long barren spell title-wise, Rafael Nadal was able to step up to the plate, rise to the occasion and firmly dispel all doubts about his viability as a player.
Novak Djokovic's winning streak, immense as it is, would mean nothing without Grand Slam wins and so a title here for Nadal would not only signify the end of the winning streak but would also leave him level with Djokovic on the number of slams won this year.
As therapeutic as his win last year was, a win this year would do him a similar good, lighting a fire in his bones. A win at the French Open would wipe the slate clean, make up for the losses to Djokovic in Madrid and Rome and renew his confidence in his game heading into the grass court season.
2. Defend His Wimbledon Title
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In the early years of his career, not content with simply being the best clay court player in the world, Rafael Nadal made it his aim to win Wimbledon.
And he did. Playing the greatest tennis match ever seen, Rafael Nadal beat Roger Federer to claim his first Wimbledon title in 2008.
Regarded as the most prestigious Grand Slam event in tennis, Wimbledon holds a special place in Rafael Nadal's heart. It provided his first slam win outside of clay, it cemented his legacy worldwide and on a more personal level, it validated his tennis credentials.
Wimbledon's history, littered with the great and good of tennis, inspires awe in the eyes of the beholder. So much of Wimbledon is guarded by an exclusivity and a quality hardly matched elsewhere—a win for Nadal here would do so much to bring back that aura of invincibility that helped him to the title last year. It would boost his belief in himself.
Claiming the Wimbledon title would be just what the doctor ordered.
3. Get Close to Djokovic by Surpassing 2010's Results at the Masters 1000 Events
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In order to close the gap that it seems Novak Djokovic will inevitably create, it would be important for Rafael Nadal to make moves in the Masters Series events.
One win from four Masters 1000 titles this year constitutes Nadal's poorest start to the season since 2005, but all hope is not lost.
Reaching the semifinal and quarterfinal stages in Montreal and Cincinnati respectively in 2010 has left room to gain important ranking points. Although neither tournament is his favorite, Nadal will be looking to at least improve on 2010's results.
Having lost in the third round in the Shanghai Masters last year, Nadal has another opportunity to gain points on a surface—that as he showed at the World Tour Finals in London, he is quite adept on. Reaching the finals in 2009, he would back himself to go all the way this time around.
The same holds true for the Paris Masters. Nadal withdrew from this tournament in 2010 citing injury, and so—despite this not being his favorite hard court surface—he would be aiming to at least replicate his 2009 semifinal berth.
4. Defend His US Open Title
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That Rafael Nadal will defend his US Open crown is a big ask. Traditionally, it is the one Grand Slam event that he has struggled the most at, it is the one slam where he has never being firm favorite but more importantly, it is the one slam where he could always gain points, never having reached the final or won the tournament prior to 2010, but this is not the case this year.
Will he do it? The answer is up in the air. No one can doubt the man; his career is littered with instances where he has achieved the impossible.
Were Nadal to win the US Open though, with the French Open and Wimbledon in the bag. it would be like nothing happened. Djokovic and his streak would just be a blip on the radar, nothing more. This would be the absolute perfect situation for Nadal. Though this is fantasy, one cannot rule out the rest of the competition this easily.
Nonetheless, were Nadal to win this title, all will be forgotten. And the therapeutic nature of such a win, would be beyond human comprehension.
5. Winning the World Tour Finals in London and Being Year End No. 1
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A more feasible option to winning the US Open would be winning the World Tour Finals.
Results last year show that Nadal can adapt to the surface and beat top 10 opposition on it.
As such, he will have a massive confidence boost going into that tournament (which let's face it, he will qualify for).
With good performances—or at least better than 2010's—in the fall Masters 1000 events and a win at the World Tour Finals, and of course the defending of his other titles, Nadal could feasibly end the year ranked No. 1. It is a difficult ask, but Djokovic's winning streak won't continue endlessly. There will be opportunities; they just have to be taken.
Is Any of This Possible?
I always felt that no one in tennis built up quite a head of steam like Rafael Nadal from the clay court season going forward.
Thus, winning the French Open will be important. In fact, it'll be as important as his very first win in 2005.
Is any of this possible? Nadal would like to think so.
What would constitute a good 2011? Achieving at least three of the six listed objectives.