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Rafael Nadal: Could Spaniard's Star Be Dimming at the Age of 25?

John BradfordCorrespondent IDecember 7, 2011

SEVILLE, SPAIN - DECEMBER 02: Rafael Nadal of Spain celebrates a point over Juan Monaco of Argentina during day one of the final Davis Cup match between Spain and Argentina on December 2, 2011 in Seville, Spain.  (Photo by Jasper Juinen/Getty Images)
Jasper Juinen/Getty Images

Three-and-a-half years ago, it wouldn’t have seemed possible. As the final point was played at a darkening All England Club and Rafael Nadal fell to the ground in celebration of his first Wimbledon Title, we didn’t foresee what we have today, a tennis world where Rafael Nadal isn’t king. 

After defeating Roger Federer in the Wimbledon final, Nadal appeared to be unbeatable. He has turned out to be anything but that. 

Nadal was the best player on clay from the onset of his career. For a time though, he was thought to be a one-trick pony, a young player with a niche and potential. As he developed so did his frustration in his inability to beat Roger Federer. 

For two straight years, Nadal had to live knowing that he was better than everyone in the world on grass, except one man. There was no consolation in being second best to a man in contention for the best all-time. Three years after his first French Open win, Nadal had failed to win a Major Title on a surface besides clay. 

When Nadal defeated Roger Federer in the 2008 Wimbledon final, it was a passing of the torch, or so we thought.

After losing at the U.S. Open following his first Wimbledon victory, Nadal began the 2009 season with a victory in the Australian Open, his first Grand Slam win on hard court. 

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Who would be able to stand in Nadal’s way now? At just 22, Nadal had proved to be a major champion on every surface. Not only that, but he didn’t appear to have any real competitors. 

During the 2006 and 2007 seasons, Roger Federer went on a dominant run, winning every Grand Slam event, save the two French Opens. Nadal was prepared to make a similar run. Only, he looked to be the best on every surface. 

Following Nadal’s 2009 Australian Open victory, a roller coaster three years began that has many questioning where his place in tennis is today. 

The remaining portion of the 2009 season was one of both physical and emotional pain for Nadal. Knee tendinitis would severely hamper his play. Nadal’s record streak of French Open victories came to an end after a stunning loss to Robin Soderling

When the knee would not heal, the Spaniard had no choice but to withdraw from Wimbledon. In a span of a couple of months, Nadal had lost two major titles and the world No. 1 ranking. 

Nadal’s next Grand Slam victory wouldn’t come until the 2010 French Open, where once again he showed us signs that he was ready to dominate the sport. Nadal won the final three Slams of 2010 including his first U.S. Open victory, completing the career Grand Slam and regaining his top ranking. 

It is the 2011 season though that has everyone questioning Nadal’s future. In 2011, Novak Djokovic emerged as a star. He failed to win the French, but won the remaining three Slams. 

More important was Djokovic’s record against Nadal. Djokovic defeated Nadal six times in 2011, all in finals. Two of these victories came in Grand Slams (Wimbledon and U.S. Open) and two came on Nadal’s dominant surface of clay. 

Just as Federer once dominated Nadal and Nadal then did the same to Federer, for now at least, it appears that Djokovic has Nadal’s number. For the man who was supposed to make a run at greatest ever, a younger rival is the last thing Nadal needed. 

There are always whispers that Nadal isn’t 100 percent. He constantly seems to be banged up to some extent whether it be a leg or a foot. 

Is this the end of his dominance though? It would be one thing if Nadal and Djokovic had a real rivalry. But Djokovic owned this one in 2011. 

Does Nadal need to regain his form or is Djokovic simply that good? Either way, he can’t afford to lose to Djokovic in the same manner during the 2012 season. His stretch of dominance and his legacy are now in question. 

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