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Rafael Nadal faces his toughest Roland Garros defense yet

1.69K   //    15 May 2015, 14:31 IST
Rafael Nadal congratulates Andy Murray after the Madrid Open final

A terrible performance in Madrid Open final

The despondent look on Nadal’s face during the trophy presentation of Madrid Masters 1000 event  that concluded last Sunday conveyed a lot more than a million words can. He was expected to win against Murray and gain some much needed confidence heading into Roland Garros. He did not eventually but what was  most worrisome for his plethora of fans was that he simply did not turn up , succumbing 6-3,6-2 to Murray in the finals.

Rafa was exactly as poor as the scoreline suggested. Murray played decent enough but he did not have to do anything extraordinary. Nadal’s length of shots was appalling with most of them barely making past the service line of his opponent . He was particularly edgy on his backhand wing making too many unforced errors. Couple of his backhands rolled into the bottom of the net. What made it even more shocking was that just 24 hours before this shoddy display he had played one of his better matches of the season . He had dispatched Berdych 7-6,6-1 in a commanding second set performance.

Nadal’s results on clay have been inconsistent this season

Nadal did not have the best of hard court seasons this year but that was put down to being away from the game for a long time. Once the clay court season rolled around, his confidence was expected to flood back . He was expected to be his domineering self on the red dirt .

We are nearing the end of clay court season and that has not happened yet. It did not even happen at Madrid which provided him a perfect opportunity to gain some momentum as his fierce rival Novak Djokovic was absent. It suggests that factors other than his rustiness are playing a part here.

Rafa is undoubtedly facing a crisis of confidence. Indeed he has said so himself on several occasions this year. However the lack of confidence stems from the fact that his level of play has dropped significantly over the last 18 months. His body battered and bruised from all the injuries and punishment on the court is simply not listening to him. It is not allowing him to play at the level he wants to play. His movements are definitely more laboured this season than in any of his previous others.

A tough title defense awaits

Nadal is not turning any younger. He will be 29 come next month . This is usually the age when tennis professionals start to decline and considering Nadal’s season so far there is nothing to suggest that this is not happening to him at the moment. In fact, everything points out to the fact that the milage on his legs is finally catching up to him. Though this is incredibly sad, it is also natural and everyone succumbs to father time eventually.

By Virtue of his performance in Madrid, he has dropped to number 7 in the latest ATP rankings ,his lowest in a decade. Barring a miracle he wont be seeded inside the top four at Roland Garros. This means that he will have to face stronger opponents much earlier in the tournament and this is the last thing he needed especially when he is short on confidence. Not to mention the incredibly motivated Djokovic who is circling like a vulture ready to pounce at any given chance.

Counting Nadal out is not an option as he showed last season that he can perform when it matters the most. He is a champion and a warrior with a never say die attitude not seen in tennis before and probably will not be seen after. However with the age, ranking  and confidence lining up against him it cannot be argued that Nadal will face his toughest Roland Garros defense this season.

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