It took 2 hours and 46 minutes for Horacio Zeballos to claim his first ATP title beating the King of Clay Rafa Nadal 6-7, 7-6, 6-4. Zeballos put on a great show and refused to be intimidated by the record of Nadal, playing some incredibly points and being far more effective on serve than the Spaniard.
Zeballos became only the third man ever, behind Djokovic and Federer, to beat Nadal in a clay court final.
Zeballos was playing a huge tennis name and a clay court giant and yet the way Rafa was moving around the court made it feel like the great Spaniard was the underdog – the one legged underdog.
Nadal didn’t look comfortable sliding around the court, he lacked his usual speed, he looked flat and he even appeared to not be weight bearing equally at times. He clearly lacked power in his shots because he couldn’t get enough push through his legs and he only performed all out sprints and slides when it was a ‘do or die’ moment.
On red clay Rafa had never previously lost to a left-hander but Zeballos sensed his opportunity and threw everything he could at Rafa, producing some brilliant drop shots and a phenomenal angle to bring up triple match point.
At times Rafa’s shot selection was downright awful and for much of the third set he struggled to get the shot he had worked to set up to land in the court. While confidence is clearly an issue you have to wonder how much of a distraction his clearly sore left knee was – and that’s not to take anything away from Zeballos’ superior performance.
It has been revealed that Rafa has spent his time off creating and athlete and event management company with Carlos Costa as well as a training app – all signs that Rafa is now thinking about what life after tennis may look like. Rafa did not renew his contract with IGM despite collecting $25 million in endorsements last year..
Yes the knee looked wobbly when he slid, yes he looked uncomfortable with his movement but is this the reason he made choices, shots and errors you wouldn’t normally see – maybe.
Only time will tell what form Rafa will find and while it’s a good result to be a runner up in your first tournament back in seven months I think we all know he picked Vina del Mar because him doing well there was a likely outcome.
Despite this it was a good outcome and an indication of how truly brilliant he is on clay that he can get to a final when he is clearly a long way from his best. What worries me is not the result but the movement.
I can only hope Rafa’s knees settle as he clearly hopes they will because tennis is not ready to lose him again for either an injury time out or permanently.
All Nadal knee issues aside it was lovely to see the misty eyed joy of Horacio Zeballos.