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How Worried Should Rafa Nadal Be After Stunning Wimbledon Loss to Dustin Brown?

Merlisa Lawrence Corbett@@merlisaFeatured ColumnistJuly 2, 2015

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Something is irking Rafael Nadal.

The 14-time Grand Slam winner lost to Dustin Brown, 7-5, 3-6, 6-4, 6-4, in the second round at Wimbledon. It's the fourth consecutive year that Nadal bows out early, to a player ranked outside the top 100.

Is this simply a run of misfortune at Wimbledon? Was Brown just a bad matchup for Rafa? Or was this defeat a symptom of a larger problem? How concerned should Nadal be? 

Fans, players and tennis pundits watched in dismay as a 30-year-old, making his Centre Court debut, dismantled Nadal. Even when Brown took the first set, conventional wisdom and Nadal's track record pointed to a comeback. 

Instead, Brown continued to blast returns for one ridiculous winner after another. Nadal, a man who could trademark the comeback, looked lost. He had no answers.  

Following the match, Nadal pondered whether he would ever return to his championship form at Wimbledon. He appeared baffled when he spoke with reporters at his post-match press conference (via Wimbledon website.)

I was ready to compete. I lost. Obviously this is a bad moment for me. I have to keep going and working more than ever to try to change that dynamic. I am a good loser. I always accept. I am not happy, but I accept that I am not good enough. I don’t know if I will be back to the level of 2008 or other years. If I don’t make that happen – well, I played five finals here, and took the trophy home two times, so it’s not bad.

Accepting defeat is one thing, but was Nadal conceding to a title-less future at Wimbledon?

Whether he was, that might become a reality. Since winning the title in 2011, Nadal hasn't advanced beyond the fourth round.

The Spaniard entered Wimbledon seeded No. 10, the lowest ever in his career. Just midway through the season, Nadal has 12 losses. He had just 13 in 2012 and 2013 combined. Last season, cut short by injury, he lost 11 matches. 

Ben Rothenberg @BenRothenberg

Rafael Nadal's recent #Wimbledon losses: 2012 - #100 Lukas Rosol 2013 - #135 Steve Darcis 2014 - #144 Nick Kyrgios 2015 - #102 Dustin Brown

Something's gone awry.

Tennis columnist Chris Chase, of USA Today's For the Win, chronicled Nadal's recent descent: 

Rafa’s results from his 2015 tournaments: Lost opening round in Doha, beat in straight sets by Tomas Berdych in the Australian Open quarters, lost in the semifinals of Rio’s clay tournament to No. 28 Fabio Fognini, won in Buenos Aires after not playing a single opponent with a top-5o ranking, lost in quarterfinals of Indian Wells to Milos Raonic and won one match in Miami before falling to fellow Spaniard Fernando Verdasco in straights. That loss speaks volumes. Prior to the 2012 Masters event in Madrid, Nadal was 13-0 against his countryman. Since then, he’s lost two straight to Verdasco.

After losing to Verdasco in Miami, Nadal revealed, via Reuters, that he lacks confidence and suffers from anxiety when playing. "I am feeling more tired than usual, feeling that I don't have this self confidence that when I hit the ball I am going to hit the ball where I want to hit the ball, to go for the ball knowing that my position will be the right one."

How does a 14-Slam champion lose confidence and gain anxiety? That question perplexed former British No. 1 Tim Henman, who spoke with BBC Sport about Nadal's troubles.

"When you have won 14 Grand Slams and 60-odd tour titles, it amazes me how fragile Rafael Nadal's confidence is....He needs to find a solution to that because he is still young."

Dustin Brown and Rafael Nadal shakes hands after their second-round match at Wimbledon.
Dustin Brown and Rafael Nadal shakes hands after their second-round match at Wimbledon.Ian Walton/Getty Images

Could Rafa be overthinking his losses? After all, six of the 12 have come against players ranked in the top 10. 

Maybe Brown is just a bad matchup. Nadal is 0-2 against Brown. He's won just one set of the five they've played. 

In a post-match interview (via Tennis Channel), Brown explained to Kate Battersby that he came in with a game plan that forced Nadal out of his comfort zone. 

"I am lucky to have played him twice on my favorite surface. I wouldn’t want to play him on hard court or clay. Here it was great to play serve-and-volley so well and to do it for that long. I knew what the plan was. I wanted to take him out of his comfort zone and I held it together for the whole match.”

Brown, whose game is as unconventional as his career, plays quick-paced tennis. It goes against the methodical way Nadal likes to play. 

The German throws in a bit of old-school serve and volley, the bread-and-butter of the grass-court game. Even when Nadal picked off a volley, Brown stood his ground and popped drop shots that died just beyond the net. Brown reduced Nadal, the rally warrior, into a short-point victim.

As brilliant as Brown's execution was, you have to wonder if there is some deeper issue troubling Nadal. He spoke of anxiety, which boils down to fear. Why is Rafa afraid? 

He turned 29 in June. Although a record number of 30-and-older players entered Wimbledon this year, that's getting up there in tennis. Besides, Nadal is hard on his body. He may be under 30, but his knees might be pushing 50.  

Could it be that Nadal fears his body can no longer deliver what his heart desires, championships? 

Perhaps it's time for a coaching change. Roger Federer, Andy Murray and even Stan Wawrinka have made coaching changes. It's a tough call when your coach is family. However, on the women's side, Serena Williams, coached by her parents most of her career, took on Patrick Mouratoglou. It's hard to think of a late-career coaching change as fruitful as that. Maybe outside eyes can see flaws invisible to those entrenched in Nadal's camp. 

Luckily for Nadal, he has few points to defend the rest of the season. Last season, Nadal skipped the U.S. Open and played in just two tournaments after Wimbledon. He'll gain ground in the rankings even with a mediocre finish. 

Winning a few hard-court tournaments can rebuild confidence too. That's if winning is the only issue. Stunning upsets happen. Slumps too. The severity of this slump depends on Nadal, who has some soul-searching to do.

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