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Rafael Nadal Will Have to Adapt if He’s Going to Taste Real Victory Again

Zack Howe

Posted on April 3, 2017 09:27

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On Sunday, Rafael Nadal lost his second Championship to Roger Federer in this young 2017 Season. Will he ever regain his former greatness?

"#VamosRafa!!!!" I tweeted when Rafael Nadal was on the verge of breaking Roger Federer halfway through the first set of Sunday’s Miami Open Championship. Then Roger Federer immediately saved the game, broke in the next and went on to win the match handily in straight sets.

I am a rabid Rafa fan. Unapologetically so. When he was at his best, watching Rafael Nadal was an awe-inspiring spectacle. His inside-out cross-court forehand is truly the most beautiful play in sports. The shear physics of it is mind-boggling.

 

Video: Wimbledon.com

 

Rafa was, for many years, the greatest tennis player in the world, and arguably the greatest in history. But his physical style of play has caught up with him in his old age of 30—old by tennis standards. Which makes his 35 year-old adversary a freakin’ dinosaur.

How does Roger Federer still compete with the greats at this age? After all, there was a stretch for two to three years where it seemed the Hall-of-Famer was well past his prime and could no longer cut it. Then last year he came roaring back, and he’s been dominating since.

The short answer is he adapted. He recognized what he could no longer do and changed his game to play to his new strengths. And that’s exactly what Rafa needs to do. Rafa’s aim has always been to tire out his opponents. He would consistently get into 15- and 20-shot rallies until his adversary just started spraying balls everywhere. He could dictate points like no other, and he could certainly finish them (see above video).

But Rafa has always had one curious flaw: he lacks confidence. How can one of the greatest athletes in history lack confidence? Is it because he’s a child of divorce? Possibly. He’s still human. And this lack of confidence has gotten worse on the backside of his prime. Now he drops balls safely in the middle of the court, hoping his opponent will err. There is no aggression left in his game. It’s timidity at its most frustrating.

This year he has started to show signs of turning that around, however. Both aged players are climbing the ranks this season, outperforming the field. Rafa is healthier than he’s been in a few years, but he’s still losing in big moments because he hasn’t figured out how to fully change his game. He must recognize that he has lost a step, and can no longer play defensive tennis thusly. He needs to become the aggressor or he’s going to continue losing big matches.

So the question is: Can he find the confidence to paint the corners on break points? He’s going to have to, or he’ll likely never win another Grand Slam.

 

 

Zack Howe

Posted on April 3, 2017 09:27

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Source: USA TODAY
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Roger Federer continued his dominant run of form against his longtime rival, Rafael Nadal, in winning the Miami Open.

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