World number one, Rafael Nadal, hasn't been at the top of his game recently and it's been plain for all to see. Unconvincing wins over John Isner in the first round and his fellow countryman Pablo Andujar in the second round, would've hardly done much to lift his hopes—certainly, it couldn't have done much to allay the fears of his own fans.
Roland Garros, known to offer the sternest test of ability in tennis, has not disappointed this year.
The clay has been gruelling, the crowds have been hard-to-please, and each and every competitor has been competent—such has been the test.
Cajoled and goaded by his current situation, Rafael Nadal's progress has been far from fluid. His ranking as top dog is under immense pressure, his title defense is also under immense pressure, and this has affected his game.
With eroded confidence—itself mainly down due to a lack of consistency—Nadal has found himself in the rare situation where he must actively improve as the matches go by, to have a chance of reaching the final stages of the tournament.
Improvements haven't been as clear-cut or as easy to pinpoint, but they are being made. In his match against Antonio Veic earlier today, we got a glimpse of the Nadal of the foreseeable future.
His use of the inside-out forehand was prominent; his presence inside the baseline was obvious, and he refrained, as much as he could, from looping the backhand.
There are still slight changes necessary.
For instance, the inculcation of the backhand slice, the maintenance of depth off his groundstrokes, and the consistent firing of his first serve. Nonetheless, Nadal's performance today against Veic was by far his best performance of the tournament so far—and it visibly did him a world of good.
In the cauldron that is the French Open, Nadal has been booed, discounted, and even rallied against—but all of this serves his purpose, because he will take it in his stride and use this opportunity to convince himself that the world is against him.
In no other tournament on the planet would this ever be the case—but there is no other tournament on the planet, quite like the French Open. Little by little, Nadal has eked out an "against-all-odds" situation for himself—the French may not have meant it to be so, but they are giving him one hell of a bloodletting.
A bloodletting after a harsh winter—there's nothing more therapeutic. It would seem that Nadal's best is soon to come.
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