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The curious case of Rafael Nadal and the road to resurrection

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1.19K   //    25 Oct 2016, 11:35 IST
SHANGHAI, CHINA - OCTOBER 12:  Rafael Nadal of Spain returns a shot against Viktor Troicki of Serbia during the Men's singles second round match on day four of Shanghai Rolex Masters at Qi Zhong Tennis Centre on October 12, 2016 in Shanghai, China.  (Photo by Lintao Zhang/Getty Images)
Nadal has had a widely inconsistent 2016, excelling in the clay season but failing everywhere else

From being a grand slam champion for 10 consecutive years to go without a title for 2 consecutive years, Rafael Nadal has seen it all in his illustrious career. Since his return from injury, the Spaniard has suffered a serious slump in form and never looked like the player he used to be. 

It’s been two seasons of exhilarating tennis, and the Spaniard is yet to find the proper rhythm which has caught the tennis world by surprise. Over the course of his career, the Spaniard has been affected by numerous injuries but has always found a way to get back to his best. However, that is not the case for the past two seasons which is quite appalling.

Nadal’s search for an elusive 15th grand slam title has been put on hold since his French Open triumph in 2014. The clay season excites every Nadal fan around the globe, as the Spaniard comes up with his best during that time of the year. But, for the past two years, the invincibility Nadal once had on clay is slowly diminishing.

Although the Spaniard had a dreadful clay season in 2015, he started to look like his old self again in 2016, when he won Monte-Carlo and produced some good results in Madrid and Rome. Going into Roland Garros with immense confidence, Nadal confronted with an unfortunate wrist injury which forced him to withdraw from the tournament.

Nothing is fascinating than playing for your country. Nadal rightly chose the occasion of Olympics to make his re-entry. In all fairness, the Spaniard played a good tournament with no match practice whatsoever and reached the semis of the tournament.

His clash against Del Potro was certainly one of the best matches in 2016 where both the giants were battling it out for their country and in the end the Argentine prevailed. Nadal, however, ran out of steam the next day against Nishikori which saw the Spaniard go medal-less.

Since his return, the Spaniard got ousted to players like Borna Coric, Lucas Pouille, Grigor Dimitrov and recently Viktor Troicki. Players who aren’t his equivalent, but suddenly they are made to look like. Are they producing their best against Nadal, or it is made to look that way? It’s more of the latter than the former.

Hardships faced by Nadal since his return from injury

When Nadal made his return in 2015 after his appendicitis injury, he lacked mobility and confidence and was never enjoying the game which he admitted himself in many press conferences. However, the indoor court season changed the fortunes for him towards the end of the season and he ended the year on a positive note.

His 2016 season was no different apart from the good run he had in Monte-Carlo. The most scariest thing for every Nadal fan at the moment is one cannot see a glimmer of the old Nadal.The thing which refrains Nadal to get back to his glory days is his twitchiness on the court which is very rare to see in a player who has such a strong mental fortitude.

Over the years, Nadal used to wear down his opponents by imparting tremendous spin which will force the players to submission, and even the very best players couldn’t find an answer to it. Now, there is a substantial change as the players have exploited that aspect of Nadal’s game and have dealt to handle with the heavy topspin he generates.

Novak Djokovic is one of the prime examples who handled the heavy top-spinning forehand of Nadal with ease. Nadal does not instill the fear in his opponents he once used to in his prime. Moreover, Nadal’s forehand lacks pace, depth, and penetration.

He is no longer able to find the corners of the court at will, which makes the resurgence even more tedious for him. Nadal’s ability to produce incredible shots and put the ball back into play almost miraculously from any position is now a thing of the past.

Another noticeable change in the Spaniard’s game is his lack of ability to move quick around the court. In his hay days, Nadal used to scoot around the tennis court at a rapid pace which was an additional bonus to his game. Very few could match his athleticism back then, but now things have changed. Nadal puts a lot of effort on practice courts, but it couldn’t be transpired into results which is denting his confidence furthermore. 

How he can stage a comeback

The first thing Nadal needs to do is to build confidence, which obviously starts with some victories.There are perhaps hardly a few years of tennis left in Nadal to resurrect his career and there are certain things he can fine-tune to get back to his best.

Yes, he might have lost some electricity in his legs as he is in his 30’s, but tennis is not a sport which only depends on the physical aspect of the game. It’s the mental game and Nadal can certainly work on that by adding a new blood to his team along with his uncle, Toni.

Another aspect of the game where Nadal can work is his approach to the net. Nadal’s game predominantly revolves around the baseline, where the Spaniard doesn’t approach the net often unless the opponent is caught wide off the court. Nadal’s recent doubles results would suggest that he is a terrific volleyer, and he can use that aspect of the game to his  armoury to shorten the points.

The primary focus for Nadal at the moment would be getting the forehand to the best of his abilities. Even the Spaniard after his loss to Troicki mentioned that it’s the forehand which gives him confidence and he needs to work hard to bring that back.

Nadal should also consider improving his serving. In, the past Nadal wasn’t heavily reliant on his serving, as the Spaniard had the immaculate racket skills to generate impossible shots from the baseline which retrieved him from danger. But, that isn’t the case anymore. The 30-year-old needs some cheap points to reduce his workload and improving his service would definitely help his cause.

It is difficult for any Nadal fan to witness the difficulties faced by him at the moment, but I feel that he is not done yet. It would be injudicious to write-off a warrior like Nadal. A champion like him will always find a way or else will make one to get back to his prime.One can certainly hope that 2017 is the year where we can witness the return of the gladiator.

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