I've been watching tennis for a very long time and I can't help but to note an important turn of events that I've observed this year. It's something that would help make clear as to what has been happening to Nadal as the season has gone by.
Novak Djokovic!! What an amazing year he is having. Probably the best ever by any player in the open era, of course only up until now. He's still got a lot more to do until he can come close to the standard set in 2006 by the legendary Roger Federer. Starting with the Australian Open, this guy has been dominating the game like none other, bar Federer. He's won two Grand Slams and a total of nine ATP titles.
One common thread in almost all of his titles here has been Rafael Nadal.
They first played in the final in the Masters at Indian Wells. Needless to say, Djokovic won. Sure, nothing surprising there, as he had already won the Australian Open. And then, they met again, this time at the finals in Miami. Once again, Djokovic came out on top. I believe this result occurred when Nadal began having doubts about his game against Djokovic. It started the slide for Nadal. Djokovic was slowly getting into his head.
Now, enter clay season. Nadal's beloved time of the year. Surely, no one would be able to take him here, even Djokovic, is what people might have felt at this point. Djokovic did not play in Monte Carlo, and Nadal most likely breathed a sigh of relief at this point, and sure enough went on to claim this title for the 7th consecutive time. In came Novak. After a comfortable title at home in Belgrade, he returned as a bigger threat than ever on clay.
In the finals of Madrid, he comfortably beat Nadal in straight sets. Sure, by now Nadal had a bigger problem. He had lost three times in a row now. He just had to get back somehow, and there was no better place than at Rome, which had a much more slower surface than Madrid. Additionally, Nadal was a five time champion here. But, the script unfolded in pretty much the same fashion. Nadal lost again. On Clay twice!!
I believe this was the turning point for Nadal this year. He completely lost belief in himself when playing Djokovic, who by this time had gotten into his head completely. In the French Open, Nadal escaped. Had Federer not beaten Djokovic in the semi-final, Djokovic would have been the holder of Roland Garros by now, and Nadal would've been destroyed had he lost playing Djokovic. In the final, Nadal happily took apart Federer, like he almost always does.
But, we all knew, Djokovic was not going to run away.
It was Wimbledon time and the legendary 16 time Grand Slam champion lost in the QFs. We all knew, Djokovic versus Nadal was sure to happen. Not only did it happen, Djokovic even beat him and picked up another Grand Slam. Nadal was beaten five times in a row, by the same man. Never before had that happened to him.
I guess we all can now see that Nadal has been on a downslide ever since, as was the case in Montreal and at Cincinnati, losing pretty convincingly. All of this comes down to him losing self-belief and I don't see him defending his US Open title either.
Watching all five of those matches, I must say that Nadal did not even try changing his tactics in any of them. He kept moon balling the way he does against everyone else, but it just does not work against Djokovic. He's too good a player, especially on the backhand side, probably the best in the game at the moment. He's quick, returns great and has an excellent forehand too and is mentally the toughest player at the moment. Nadal does not have many effective weapons to hit him with.
There has to be a change of tactics, maybe a stronger serve or a different variety, or else the same depressing script would continue for him. I just hope we don't see Nadal fade away very soon.
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