Now before you all get seriously concerned I am not suggesting that Rafael Nadal has actually had some sort of traumatic brain injury. Brain injuries of any sort are very serious but it is also the body part or organ that I think is affecting Rafa most at the moment.
Nadal has long been known for his exceptional mental toughness and while he is still more mentally focuses than most other players something seems to have switched.
In January I got the feeling that the idea, and the media hype about the Rafa Slam was too much for him to handle and ultimately the pressure affected his confidence and the fever didn’t help much either. Since then he has repeatedly complained of feeling tired.
Whether Nadal is mentally tired, physically tired or both I think it’s a problem because he’s never complained this much about it before. Now he’s talking about feeling like he’s been on the tour for 100 years. “It’s my ninth year on the tour, and its completely the same feeling every year.You don’t have the chance to stop, never….I almost 25, but seems like I am playing for 100 years here on the tour. I didn’t spend a weekend at home since the week of Davis Cup before Indian Wells. That’s too much.”
Four consecutive final defeats, two on clay, one at home at the hands of Novak Djokovic seem to have amplified the confidence issues. He’s not dominating like he has previously, he looks more stressed on court and he’s not playing the big moments like he did last year and he’s had two fevers in sic months.Nadal hasn’t said he’s suffering from anything like mono but the questions have been asked.
It’s almost as though Djokovic has wounded the already shaken confidence of the Spaniard. Nadal seems to be carrying around a psychological injury.
Even the other players have noticed. His next opponent, Ivan Ljubicic, recently said; “There is no question that his confidence is shaken. You see him in the locker room. He’s saying it. He’s not hiding it. He’s just not feeling as comfortable as he was feeling last year. And even the matches he’s winning, he’s not dominating as much as he used to be.”
The fact that his opponents feel the shift in Nadal is not going too help. In the last few days we’ve seen Nadal’s opponents come out inspired by Djokovic’s achievement and really take it to Rafa rather than rolling over and playing dead and the Spaniard has had difficulty responding quickly. Against Isner he very nearly found himself knocked out of the competition in the first round.
Nadal was expecting to be holding his 20th Masters 1000 title by now, even his 21st but Novak has stopped what Nadal has begun to accept as normal – winning.
Rafa’s confidence normally grows from strength to strength during the clay court season and instead he has been knocked off his perch by a seemingly invincible opponent and I think that’s reflected in some of the above comments.
If Nadal does not win Roland Garros and loses his top ranking then I have very serious concerns about what will happen at Wimbledon and over the coming months. If Nadal loses to Djokovic in the final again I think we can almost kiss Wimbledon and the US Open goodbye.
Nadal needs a win. He needs a win to heal his mind and he needs it now.