Watching Rafael Nadal build up a set and break's worth of chances to close out yesterday's Montreal Masters second-round match against Croatian Ivan Dodig, no one would have believed that Nadal could go on to lose the match 1-6, 7-6, 7-6.
The first set went relatively smoothly. Nadal's forehand showed some of the fluency it lacked at Wimbledon two months ago, and his backhand looked exceptionally healthy.
The second set seemed to be heading in the same direction until Nadal uncharacteristically surrendered his serve, allowing Dodig, the world No. 41, to break back and take the set to a tiebreak which Nadal lost.
In the third set, Nadal again broke Dodig's serve but allowed the Croat to get back into the match by surrendering the break. Dodig quite clearly was playing the match of his life.
He hit aces whenever he was down break points, his ability to move Nadal back and forth was Djokovicesque in its execution, and incidentally, he just didn't let up.
Speaking after the loss, Nadal tried to make sense of the match:
I had to close the match with the 5-3 [lead] in the third set. I had to close that match probably in the second when I was playing very well, 6-1, 3-1, playing very high level of tennis.After that, the tennis is like this. You are winning without many problems, you have one mistake, and after the opponent starts to serve very well, playing very aggressive.
Should this loss be taken too seriously? Simply put, I say no. Some might then say, "but Andy Murray is criticized for losing early, why not Nadal?" And it's simple really, such a loss is uncharacteristic of Nadal but not for Murray.
Similarly, you can't blame the loss on the Djokovic factor. That was six weeks ago. It also can't be complacency. You only have to see how Nadal went after each and every ball.
So what was wrong with Nadal? That's the big question. And the answer is: absolutely nothing.
All of Nadal's losses this year to Novak Djokovic have been new territory for the Spaniard. He played five finals against the Serbian and lost all five. Those losses visibly deflated him, as will this loss, but frankly speaking, you can't win all of the time.
This loss to Dodig will be seen in hindsight as a necessary detour that expanded Nadal's emotional palette.
I simply urge you to wait to see what happens when Nadal realizes that there's only so far down one can go till the only way is up.