It has been clear for all to see that Rafael Nadal has not been in his finest form at this year's French Open.
His next opponent will be Robin Soderling, the only man to beat the Spaniard at Roland Garros.
With the way Rafa is playing now, will the aspects of his game that he has showed thus far be good enough to beat the big-hitting Swede?
When watching Nadal's matches, it seems that he is not serving well, but the statistics say otherwise.
Rafa's average first serve through his four first matches has been 71.5 percent. Furthermore, Rafa's first serve winning percentage has been 73 percent. These are both very good statistics that could prove immense against the big-serving Soderling.
Nadal's favorite shot and most potent weapon has been very good. But some uncharacteristic mistakes have made his opponents less fearful of hitting to the defending champion's super weapon.
In one rally he can hit an amazing cross-court forehand that just clears the net, while in another he can totally over-hit the same shot, sending the ball metres beyond the baseline.
The new balls look to have made things difficult for Nadal. Will he be able to tackle them in the next round?
In these championships Nadal’s backhand has been nowhere. The clay king has just used this shot to keep the rallies going, and when he gets nervous he tends to under-hit the ball dramatically.
Most of the time, the five-time French Open champion is hitting way behind the baseline, including when he is returning.
Nadal is striking the ball at its highest point, but if he had more confidence he would be taking on the ball slightly earlier, thus hitting nearer to the baseline and being able to attack more.
The clay machine has been hitting closer to the baseline with each match, but has yet to reach the baseline brutality of last year, when all shots were hit either deep or at extreme angles.
The Spaniard’s net play has also been getting better with every match. As Nadal has also mentioned, when he has confidence he comes to the net more often.
Against Ivan Ljubicic his net approaches were at 82 percent. Nevertheless, this number is too high. Nadal should come to the net much more since he is so successful.
Usually when a player decides to play at the net during a match, and is successful, the percentages are around 67 percent.
Against Soderling, Nadal should use the drop shot, something that he has not used at all this year. This will bring the big Swede to the net, a position he does not like to be in.
For a person who is the defending champion of three Grand Slam events, and the No. 1 player in the world, his confidence is extremely low. How could an athlete not feed off of that?
The low confidence is seen by the distance Nadal is hitting behind the baseline and how little he is using the down-the-line, inside-out forehand that we have come to associate the Spaniard with.
Oh, and he has also mentioned it a number of times, too, making no sense at all. In this occasion, Nadal is being a bit too honest.
Basically there is none. The fluctuations Nadal has been going through in his matches are actually very rare. Nadal mentioned this new phenomenon on Eurosport’s “Set, Game and Mats,” where he said that in his matches he is usually consistently bad, or good, but this year has been different.
The Spaniard may break his opponent with great energy and shot making, and then immediately get broken back by his own mistakes.
A part of his lack of consistency has to do with Nadal’s concentration, which has also been very up and down. Nadal use to be a rock, the unflappable one.
However, this year he is not so. The Spanish powerhouse has been missing some routine forehands with regularity and has also been getting very frustrated and anxious during important points.
Still, how paradoxical is it that Nadal may sometimes create the best passage of play also during important points?
Rafael Nadal is a solid C+ at the moment, and if the five-time champ wants to get into the semifinals, he well have to play a lot better and with much more confidence, because Soderling is no push-over.