Well, it’s the day after a tough loss. I always feel a bit better with a little distance and reading/watching Rafa’s presser often helps. I feel the need to ramble a bit – feel free to skip my random musings and go straight to the lint.
Like a lot of people, I do think something broke a little inside Rafa in the 2014 AO final. Not just physically with the back injury, but mentally/emotionally. Since then, his battle with nerves has become more and more difficult.
I’ve always felt like Rafa was a very nervous player. He just dealt with his nerves and hid them from the public by building layers of armor between his game and the nerves. The very top layer of the armor was that intense match face – the one that made me think he was a grim and arrogant person the very first time I saw him play. That mask wasn’t arrogance, though, it was the opposite. It was his protection from doubts, nerves and anxieties. It seems that those outer and inner masks are’t working anymore. I can’t help but wonder if that back injury in the 2014 AO final put a chink in some layer of that armor that he hasn’t been able to track down and repair yet. He went into that final with such self-assurance and his goal of winning every major twice seemed very much within his reach. To lose that opportunity while staying out there and giving it all he had even when physically hampered… I don’t know. He just hasn’t felt the same since. Yes, he managed to win Roland Garros, but that victory felt shakier than usual to me. I also think the further physical issues later in the year added to the mental issues. They were more opportunities lost. Every opportunity lost adds more pressure to the next opportunity you have.
A lot of people seem to be saying his problems must be physical since he’s not as fast as he was. I’ve heard player after player say they move slower when nervous. Tennis players have to make so many decisions every second, the more that you can make and trust without thinking, the faster they are going to be made; the faster the decision is made, the quicker you can act upon it. When you are nervous and/or full of doubts, you tend to not trust those gut decisions. That nano-second of doubt, of second guessing your instinct can mean you are not to the ball in time to redirect it and thus, have to hit directly back at your opponent. (This happened a lot in last night’s match. When Rafa did try to redirect the ball, it went well out because he was late to it.) Mental performance affects physical performance. It’s as simple as that.
So many people are ragging on Rafa for not coming back like he did in 2013. Physical issues are a breeze to deal with compared to mental/emotional ones. They are concrete. You can pinpoint them. There are prescribed treatments. It’s easy to measure your progress. Mental/emotional issues are the exact opposite. They take time.
A few years ago, I remember watching a US Open match between Rafa and Murray. It was an intense match. You could tell both of them were feeling the pressure. I tweeted that Andy wanted the win so badly, it was pulling him down; Rafa wanted it so badly, it was lifting him up. Lately, the wanting has been pulling Rafa down more than lifting him up. I hope he can find that lift again. I’m also hoping that he takes positives from this loss much like he did from the 2011 US Open loss to Djokovic. He said the set he won in that match was a turning point as it helped him realize he could beat Djokovic. I’m hoping the fact that he fought in this match to the very end, that, as he said, “my mind allows me to fight until the end” will help him realize he can continue to do that. He can fight. And the fight can lift him up.
(Also: he’s still in the top 10. I’m more than a bit tired of people calling that a “horrific” season.)
Enough of my ramblings. After all, Maria Sharapova’s reply to this tweet from the USO pretty much sums up my feelings:
— US Open Tennis (@usopen) September 5, 2015
— Maria Sharapova (@MariaSharapova) September 5, 2015
- Nadal: “I Went Down Fighting” – via atpworldtour.com
- Fiery Italian ices Nadal – by Clair Maciel (usopen.org) Includes a highlight reel.
- U.S. Open 2015: Serena Williams Survives; Rafael Nadal Does Not – by David Waldstein (nytimes.com)
- Down two sets, fabulous Fognini hands Nadal nearly unprecedented loss – by Ed McGrogan (tennis.com)
- A Fab Night – by Steve Tignor (tennis.com)
But the bad sign, from my perspective, was that his performance on Friday night reminded me of watching Lleyton Hewitt in recent years. Like Rusty, Rafa fought hard and hung in at the end, yet he lost. Like Rusty, he could never win the point he needed to win. Watching the fifth set, I felt all along that it was Fognini, not Nadal, who would find a way to win. I can’t believe I just wrote that, but it’s true, and turning that psychological dynamic back around will be just as big a priority for Rafa as getting more pace on his shots.
- The End for Rafael Nadal? Don’t Fret – by Tom Perrotta (wsj.com)
Look back on his matches of old and you’ll see all the times he was close to defeat before turning a match in his favor with a few shots. This is not easy to do, and Nadal may never do it as well as he used to do it. But he’s still not too old or broken down to do it for a while longer. He says he’s getting closer, and he sounds like he knows what he’s talking about.
- Rafael Nadal’s biggest loss is the aura of invincibility that has defined him – by Les Roopanarine (theguardian.com)
- Poor play or bad luck for Rafael Nadal? – by Carl Bialik (espn.com)
Nadal has won these kinds of close matches recently. There’s no reason he can’t recapture that luck — or skill in the clutch, or whatever it was — and turn around his losing streak in lottery matches.
- Rafael Nadal’s Grand Slam losses are a loss for tennis, and tennis fans, too – by Bill Dwyre (latimes.com)
- No. 32 seed Fabio Fognini outslugs Rafael Nadal in five sets via espn.com (includes a video recap)
- The Official Power Ranking of U.S. Open On-Court Style – by Kevin Craft (gq.com>
- Rafa in L’Equipe Sports Style (French)
- 15 Love with Rafael Nadal – 15 quick questions for Rafa.
- Presser excerpt from September 2nd
- Bit of Rafa’s Spanish presser after 2nd round
- Spanish interview after the 2nd round match
- Rafael Nadal / ESPN Players Profile
- ‘Empire State of Mind’ at the US Open
- RN postmatch IV, highlights, signing autographs 02/09/2015
- Nadal vs. Schwartzman / Last game & On-court interview
- Tommy Hilfiger Bold: Behind the scenes with Rafael Nadal
- Nadal vs Fognini – via usopen.org
- Some nice photos in this flickr set
- Friday photos from Corinne Dubreuil
- Scenes from Queens: 24 Hours to Remember – by Steve Tignor and Anita Aguilar (tennis.com)
Rafa does social media:
Rafa’s brand ambassador duties start early in the day.
— Rafa Nadal (@RafaelNadal) September 4, 2015
Social media related to Rafa:
- In his final post-match presser at the USO, Lleyton Hewitt has some nice things to say about Rafa
- The Top Tennis Player in the World Started Here – via the nytimes.com