Rafael Nadal has had something of a
setback this season.
He has had plenty of disappointment,
losing in seven finals and giving up his Wimbledon and US Open titles. He has suffered
mentally, being unable to find an answer to Novak Djokovic's amazing game - losing
to him in all six battles. And he was especially disturbed by defeats in Madrid
and Roma on his favourite surface, clay. This is a new situation for him.
Going straight to the Davis Cup after
the US Open - with the change of surface - then flying to play on the Asian
tour has now seen him pay a high price: no titles from two tournaments and an
early loss in the Shanghai Masters against German Florian Mayer.
Is he lucid about what is happening? He
is aware that only a few things decide who wins matches, particularly how a
player deals with key moments. And he agrees that Djokovic was better in that area
this season. So the main issue with Rafa is mental, and he says he is going to
solve it "on the court" by working hard in order to improve. He is
realistic about the fact that Nole showed him his limits - and that he has to
find solutions to these problems.
Toni, his coach and uncle, also believes
the problems to be mental - and that Rafa will have to improve the way he
prepares for matches against Nole. I partially agree with this point of view: Nadal
will feel surer of himself before such matches if he has a clear gameplan in
mind. A combination of technical, tactical and mental improvement will allow
Nadal to get back what Djokovic took away from him: confidence in his ability
to win finals.
But I must also talk about the way Nadal
communicates. For some years now, his talk has been excessively humble: he is
never the favourite, the other players are always playing better than him and in
This is a surreptitious attempt to take
the pressure off him and place it on the opponent, and to show himself as
modest. However it has hurt him because it also takes his confidence away: by
repeating again and again how the others are better than him and that he has
everything to prove, I'm sure that he ends up slightly shaken. Rafa is now the No.2
player in the world, so there is no reason to panic - but it is time to ring
the alarm a bit.
His confidence, enthusiasm and commitment
are his best weapons, and keeping them in the long run is essential to his
success. The issues are now clear - and it is the ideal time for him to find