What if Not Even Clay Can Get Us Rafael Nadal Back... - UBITENNIS
Connect with us

Editorial

What if Not Even Clay Can Get Us Rafael Nadal Back…

The defeat to Cuevas in Rio confirms Rafael Nadal started his clay court season with two defeats in two tournaments and no final reached. Those waiting to see the Spaniard back to his best on his favourite surface were disappointed. What if not even clay can have the Spaniard back to where he belongs in men’s tennis? What can the future hold for the 14-time Grand Slam champion?

Ivan Pasquariello

Published

on

At the end of 2015 tennis fans and experts were happy to announce that Rafael Nadal was officially back. After the struggle, the injuries, the nerves, the 14-time Grand Slam champion closed the season in the top 5 and with a semi-final appearance at the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals in London. Confident on his progresses, Rafael admitted not to be feeling those nerves that had stopped him from performing at his best during the year, those were gone for good. Anxious to put the progress into use, Nadal also proclaimed he was not going to be taking a long holiday, but rather get back to tennis to prepare the 2016 season after less than a month, to make sure to continue on the right path.

 

It seemed the drive and the new restless formula were working just fine with Rafael, as he started the year reaching the final in Doha. Then it seems something switched off. Looking at it, putting ourselves in Nadal’s shoes, it would be easier to understand. Working hard and making progress, seeing results kicking in, to then being trashed on court by your biggest rival in your first final of the year. That would be utterly frustrating. In the last act of the Qatar ExxonMobil Open, the Serb Novak Djokovic didn’t just beat Nadal, he dominated the court looking as if he knew before where the Spaniard would hit the next shot, as he had a game plan in mind he knew would never fail him.

Following that defeat, the season continued for Rafael with a first-round defeat at the Australian Open against Verdasco and now two semi-finals appearances on clay, at Buenos Aires and Rio de Janeiro. The comeback on clay, anticipated with an appearance in Argentina to cut the time short, has brought not titles and no finals to the undisputed king of clay. What now? The optimistic Nadal fans and tennis experts – as Rafael’s presence is an incentive to follow the sport no matter the fan base – have now started wondering. What if not even clay can get us Rafael Nadal back?

The start of 2015 against the start of 2016

It’s surprising to think that the 2015 season was for months defined as a step back for the Spaniard, considering how he failed to win a Masters 1000 title on clay and lost the second match of his career at the French Open to Djokovic. If 2015 was a step back, then 2016 could seem even more worrying. While in 2015 Nadal had reached the quarters at the Australian Open and won the title in Buenos Aires, in 2016 Rafael was upset by Dominc Thiem and Pablo Cuevas in his first two clay court appearances. It is a fact that Nadal’s 2016 season has officially started on a low note.

Suddenly talks about the future of the Spaniard have once again shifted from utter optimistic visions onto catastrophic predictions.

“If Nadal will not stay on top of the game, he will retire”

“Nadal will never win another French Open title”

“The King of Clay abdicated”

Those are just few of the quotes you can find online these days as Nadal tries to reassess his start and is probably already working on what his next moves will be.

One thing we learned from sports media is that most of the time the declarations of failing are most likely the expression of a fear of abandon. No one wants to see Rafael hang his racquet to the hook yet, no one wants to admit to themselves the end of an era is catching close. And so we proclaim the end before it hits us, to make sure we will be ready to face the reality of the sport prepared. Is this really want we need to do? Get ready for the end of Rafael Nadal?

At Ubi Tennis we prefer to see things on a more rational note…

An analysis of Rafael and his clay court game 

Rafael lost two hard fought matches in Buenos Aires and in Rio de Janeiro, both being matches he could have ended up winning. For instance if Thiem’s deep forehand at deuce in Argentina was called out when the Austrian was serving down 4-5 in the third set, maybe we would be writing a very different story. More than 3 hours fought on court against Cuevas are the blatant showing of a tough match and hard fought battle.

Truth is, if Nadal had won both of these matches, titles such as “The King of Clay is back” would have resonated loud and clear on the net, welcoming the Spaniard right back. At the end of the day, Nadal could have won both matches and go ahead to win both titles, as it seemed in his cords he had the tennis to do so. But he didn’t, he lost both battles and doubts raise with wonders.

Nadal has been and surely is one of the toughest competitors on the ATP tour; someone able to fight for 5 hours and still send every ball back knowing he would have a chance to win. Has Rafael lost his fight? I don’t think so. Is he dealing with a low level of confidence? Surely. The shots are there, so is the drive, but the lack of confidence doesn’t allow the forehand to cause major damage as it used to do before. The legs don’t move as fast, under the conviction that every point isn’t lost and every ball is indeed reachable. The serve doesn’t fire on the line when it needs to do so. But Nadal is a top 5 player, why wouldn’t he be confident? Because for someone used to win titles in double digits many years, to finish a 2015 season with three titles and no major or Masters 1000 triumph hurts, as it would hurt any champion deep in his core.

After all, tennis is well known as being a very mental game, possibly the hardest sport on a mental point of view. But things can change, unexpectedly, rapidly, in one week or two days. Look at Sara Errani winning the title in Dubai. She thought she won’t make it to the tournament, was crying when down in the third set against Madison Brengle thinking she was done. Then something clicked and the Italian is back at smiling.

That is just one of the most recent cases and definitively something that could be happening to Nadal soon. It is a shot at a positivist approach to the matter, but why can’t it be like that? Why does it have to be easier to condemn and solemnly announc the end if the end is yet to come?

What could change

At the current state of things, I believe Nadal could consider something major, a big change in his routine. If Rafael doesn’t want to dire uncle Toni, what about having a legend next to him to co-work with Toni the way Becker has done with Vajda and Djokovic? Nadal has always had an immense love for tennis and its history, therefore having a champion of the past believing in him and cheering him up in his box could work as a strong incentive to get Nadal newly excited about things. It would be a fresh start without cutting the strings to his past and his habits.

Or it could be a tournament win to change Nadal’s season all over again. A Masters 1000 coming unexpected, following in the unpredictability of the sport. After all, who had seen the 2014 US Open men’s final coming? A change is always there, and Nadal wants to make sure to be there when his time will come, because it will come again.

And the confidence rebuilding will push the lift on the forehand stronger, pushing the ball higher. The legs will work faster and the determination fly high.

After all, if Rafael had a feeling he would have been done, he would have left it all and got to the nice life that awaits him with his family at home.

And yes, if that Masters 1000 win had to come somewhere, it is most likely to come on clay, because opponents do still fear him on that surface, more than anywhere else.

The season is long, the bells of worrying have rang, but if not clay, there will be something more taking Nadal back to the top. Yet, again…

Comments

A Rude And Silly Reply From Nadal, I Am Waiting For His Apology

I asked Nadal an innocent question about his wedding; he took it so badly that he eventually burst into an offensive: “That’s bullshit”

Published

on

LONDON – I was really surprised by Rafael Nadal’s reaction to a question that was quite innocent and totally legitimate. A reaction I consider unbecoming of him, rude and silly. I sincerely hope he will extend his apology for this behaviour. Respect remains paramount, no matter if you are the greatest champion or the new kid on the block. In front of everybody, Rafa disrespected me.

 

I hadn’t seen him since the Laver Cup in Geneva. And in the meantime,… he had gotten married. I had no intention whatsoever to ask a particularly original question or, as I have seen written in some tweets, to “show off”. And I certainly didn’t want to provoke him. Maybe the question did not come out the way I wanted: we always need to be concise during press conferences, and you cannot explain all the details, but what I wanted to ask was simply for him to explain whether the days around his wedding day had been emotional, different from the normal routine made of trainings, forehands and backhands. That’s all, no malicious innuendos, no desire to be irritating or original. I was just curious about what I considered a special moment in his life. Getting married is usually not like taking a walk in the park, even when it is possible to rely on a full team taking care of the arrangements – I assume that was the case for him – and there aren’t many details you have to worry about.

I am sorry I am forced to report such an ill-advised behaviour by Rafa Nadal of all people. He is a champion and, before that, a young man I have always appreciated, with whom I have had a good relationship ever since I saw him play for the first time in Montecarlo. He was just 17 years old, and one night he finished his match against Albert Costa very late, playing under the floodlights, in front of a scattered crowd, when most reporters had already left the Country Club to attend the traditional soirèe the tournament organizes every year at the Monte Carlo Sporting Club, next to the Jimmy’z.

This is the video footage of our exchange at the end of his English-language press conference, before the question time reserved for the Spanish press. Our dialogue starts at 10:50.

In essence, I asked Rafa if by any chance his wedding had been a disrupting element, albeit solemnly important, to his routine. This is the transcript of our interaction, with my notes in brackets.

Q. Tonight you were playing very short many times. I don’t know why, because you’re not used to that. I’d like to know, for many people to get married is a very important distracted thing (in the life of a man and a woman, it was implied) before the marriage, during the marriage, after the marriage. I’d like to know if somehow your concentration on tennis life has been a bit different even if you were going out with the same girl for many, many years (I was implying that it wasn’t love at first sight, I understand it didn’t turn his life upside down, but it still could have had some distracting effect, with the King of Spain being present and all… It wasn’t a small family wedding)

RAFAEL NADAL: Honestly, are you asking me this? Is a serious question or is a joke? Is it serious?

Q. It’s serious. (Off microphone.) Is not something that happens every day (at that point I had no microphone any longer so my retort was not captured by the official transcript), you can experience strong emotions, your parents, your wife, yourself…

RAFAEL NADAL: Okay. I surprise, is a big surprise for me you ask me this after I have been with the same girl for 15 years and having a very stable and normal life.

Doesn’t matter if you put a ring on your finger or not. In my personal way, I am a very normal guy.

Maybe for you was (did he want to add ‘different’) — how many years you have been with your…

Q. Wife 30 years this year.

RAFAEL NADAL: And before?

Q. (off microphone) 5 years

RAFAEL NADAL: Ah, maybe before you were not sure. That’s why (he smiles to the rest of the press room and he adds). Okay. Okay. We move to Spanish, because that’s bullshit. Thank you very much.

Unfortunately, due to some background chatter in the interview room I didn’t hear the “bullshit” word, I just read it on the transcript after a few colleagues made me notice he disrespected me. In fact, as soon as I went back to the press room, all colleagues, French, Swiss, even Spanish expressed their support to me because my question was perfectly legitimate, it was not engaging, mean, embarrassing or indelicate. So much so that when Rafa asked me whether it was a joke or a serious question, I immediately replied “It’s serious”. I was surprised he even had to ask.

The fact that Rafa has been together with Cisca, Francisca, Maria Francisca or Mer for 15 years does not imply that the days around his wedding, with 300 guests, friends, the King of Spain Juan Carlos ans other sporting legends were just like a walk in the park. I wasn’t there, so I don’t know whether Rafa’s parents, or Meri’s parents or some of their close friends cried, were moved to tears, experienced all those emotions that are normally coupled with weddings.

If Rafa did not experience any emotions just because he has been with the same woman for 15 years, that’s his problem. As far as I am concerned, maybe I’m just more romantic, or softer, but I thought it would be normal to get emotional in tying the knot with the woman of your life in front of so many people; an important, unforgettable moment. People usually live that day as a very special day. Rafa does not hold back expressing his emotions when he wins an important point on court – over and above his “vamos”, his jumps and his fist pumps – if his wedding day was a routine experience for him, but just the formalization of his union by exchanging rings with his fiancée… well, I am sorry for him. I don’t know what Xisca thinks about it. Judging from Rafa’s response, there should be no enthusiasm or emotion capable to upset his routine, when getting married after having been with the same woman for 15 years. He was even surprised when someone, like myself, asked him about possible emotions on his wedding day. I am stunned. I don’t want to make a big deal out of it, but I feel I should point this out because of the way he treated me. 

To put it simply, I could not believe that even after dating the same woman for 15 years, the day before the wedding could be completely routine, without any emotional involvement. This is why I asked the question, without thinking it could be misinterpreted, or considered a joke, even less labeled as ‘bullshit’. 

Perhaps Rafa was nervous because he had just lost a match (6-2, 6-4 without ever getting a break point) against an opponent he had always defeated before, Alexander Zverev. This could partially justify his behaviour, but he had not given any signs of nerves during the previous questions. I have always considered him an intelligent person. But sometimes even intelligent people make mistakes or say silly things. But they apologise afterwards. I hope Rafa is going to do it, sooner or later. If he won’t, never mind. But he will not make a very good impression to me or to all my colleagues, including the Spanish reporters from Puntodebreak and Eurosport who came to talk to me immediately after the incident. 

I want to stress once again that my curiosity about how he may have reacted to an important moment in his life that I didn’t believe could be seen as a mere formality, was entirely innocent. He didn’t understand it, I hope someone will explain him, even if this for sure will not be an important moment in his life. Even if, in some way, we have been knowing and seeing each other for 15 years.

Article originally published in Italian on ubitennis.com

 

NOTE TO OUR READERS – In reference to the exchange occurred between myself and Rafael Nadal during the press conference following his first match, I have had a clarifying meeting after his win against Medvedev. We both have acknowledged the reasons that led to the misunderstanding and the subsequent exchange of unpleasant words, mainly due to our imperfect knowledge of the English language. This is it. We’ll turn the page, for everyone’s satisfaction, and Nadal and I maintain the mutual respect that has always been a cornerstone of our relationship. Our readers are naturally free to form their own opinion on this event, but at this stage any further comment would appear unnecessary. Thank you for your attention. (Ubaldo Scanagatta)

Continue Reading

Editorial

Modern Tennis: Evolution Of A Game

Published

on

It’s a well-known fact that every single thing goes into renovation and re-shaping as we move on, sports are, certainly, included in this category that undergoes usually, from time to time, new adjustments and modifications that are probably attributed to two main reasons; to cope with the contemporary trend, particularly, among young people and other commercial aspects like promoting it to a broader population of fans. Tennis is one of a few sports that has retained most of its rules and traditions until the moment, however, introducing some little changes in the game could serve the sport better, make it more interesting for people got already bored of it, even more appealing for new audience, and most importantly more optimum and safer for the players.

 

We will get through some of the new technological and technical innovations that have been introduced into the Next Generation ATP Finals over the three editions of the tournament and expose its pros and cons.

New rules and innovations introduced to this year’s edition of Next Gen ATP Finals

The format of the tournament, since its emerging in 2017, has been quite different with the objective of attracting more fans by making matches quicker and have more exciting moments in less amount of time.

The most fundamental part of the new format has been the number of games per set, which became four games a set instead of 6 with a Tie-Break at 3-All, and No-Ad scoring. The shorter set has been compensated for with the matches being best-of-five sets so that a player needs to win 12 games to win a match. The introduction of such a new format has obviously increased the intensity of the matches by speeding up the pace of every rally, so that after every changeover you will definitely not witness more than 14 points thanks to the No-Ad scoring role, which means also more break points.

The No-Ad scoring role, similar to that in doubles competition in the standards ATP tour, means that when it’s tied at deuce (40-All), the next point is considered the deciding point and regarding serving either in the deuce or advantage courts, in 2018 edition it was the receiver’s choice, while in 2019 it’s up to the server player.

I think that these modifications on the traditional format have brought much dynamics and speed, as you can see that everything is pretty quick that needs the players to exert little physical efforts on each point which eventually helps them comply much easier to the shot clock and most probably that would impress a lots of fans amongst young ones, and would be appreciated as well by most people having a real busy schedule.

However, players have to adapt to this new format in terms of mental alertness and tactics, because everything is going very fast and if one player lost his concentration for a moment or two on his service game, with the No-Ad scoring rule, that could cost him the set which would ruin his whole match even with considering that it’s a best-of-five sets match.

The innovations, at the Next Generation ATP Finals, haven’t been only technical but also included new cutting-edge technological services that would not only help ease the calls on points but also give the players and their chosen coaches reliable data and physical measures about their own performance and workload after each match that would assist them on evaluating their plans and training strategies.

An unusual appearance of a tennis court without lines umpires.

The usage of the very innovative Live Electronic Line Calling system has so many remarkable merits, as it really helps eliminating human’s errors, yet not absolutely eliminating errors as sometimes the machine doesn’t work in very rare cases, that’s why in close callings players have the right to watch a video review to get assured of the call. In addition, this contributes a lot to shorten the average time taken between points as the calls are usually clear and need no more evaluation from the umpire or the players. Another major advantage for such system installation is that now players don’t have to challenge calls they are having doubts over, for instance a player could’ve used all their challenges and they can no longer challenge the call despite having the call wrong, that would never be encountered with this innovative system.

The third edition of the Next Generation ATP Finals also features an unprecedented technology available on ATP, in which players are allowed to use wearable devices that would measure velocity and direction, acceleration and force, rotation, body orientation, and will quantify internal load (through heart rate). The data collected would be available after matches for the players and their coaches for further assessing the key elements of their game.

All these previous innovations and rule modifications cannot be seen, generally, to be compromising the core of the traditions of tennis, however, there is a one rule introduced at the Next Gen ATP Finals that shows a lot of controversy over if it’s affecting the core of the game or not, it’s the In-Match Player Coaching via head-sets. According to this rule, a player can communicate with his coach during a match at certain points, similar to what’s happening in the WTA, however the coaches aren’t permitted to come on court.

Khachanov communicating with his team during a match at the Next Gen ATP Finals in 2017

Some top players have had their say about that topic. While some backed the very new feature, others thought it doesn’t belong to the world of tennis.

“I’m not all for it, I find it kind of cool that in tennis, you know, you’re sort of on your own out there. Not everybody has the same amount of resources for coaching, as well. So I’m not sure if it’s that beneficial.” Argued 20-time Grand Slam Champion Roger Federer.

Federer giving his team-mate Nadal some tips during a match at Laver Cup

Federer’s long term rival Novak Djokovic had another thought about the In-Match Coaching, thinking that tennis should be like most of the other sports in this aspect of the game.

“When the WTA introduced on-court coaching, many ATP players were not really positive about it. I thought it was a good move for the sport. I mean, we’re probably one of the only, maybe [the] only global sport that doesn’t use coaching during the play. Even golf, individual sport, you have caddies that you communicate with throughout the entire course.” Said Djokovic.

One way of thinking is that tennis is based on playing individually in the first place, of course, players do put strategies and tactics with their coaching teams but when they get to the court, it’s all theirs, not only physically but also mentally, that’s why some players hire psychotherapist. On the other hand, some players might have some mental weaknesses and such an opportunity could deal with this problem during the match, and at the same time the other player would be offered the same opportunity so it’s fair after all.

I think people should keep watching closely this controversial very new rule being introduced to the world of tennis at the editions of the Next Gen ATP Finals and its effect on the players, then they can conclude whether it would affect the game in a positive or negative manner.

To conclude, every single sport has to keep up to date with the advancements taking place and the common tends, yet never to change its roots that it’s already been built upon. With most of the innovations that have been introduced to the Next Gen tournament, I think there is a great combination between cutting-edge technology represented on facilitate officiating and giving useful information for the players about their game, and optimizing some rules that wouldn’t necessarily compromise the origin of tennis.

 

Continue Reading

Comments

Laver Cup: As Europe’s blue reign, myriad hues peek out in event’s latest iteration

The 2019 Laver Cup showed all over again why it was an opportunity for tennis to be diverse in its offering.

Published

on

2019 Laver Cup, Team Europe, Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal
Photo Credit: Laver Cup

Twelve matches spread over a three-day weekend later, Laver Cup has modified the proverbial face and scope of men’s tennis. It is still viewed sceptically as a disruptor to routine, individual-focused tennis matches in certain pockets. Yet, the singularity it has brought into the midst of the prevalent concept of individuality is irrevocable.

 

In the third year of the event’s emergence, these aspects are repetitive. However, Laver Cup’s display re-lit the theme of a team before a player. It also elevated it to heights not seen in its previous two editions. This showed in the players’ camaraderie with each other. As it did in the numerous coaching tips that came from the bench from Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer, and even Nick Kyrgios towards their fellow squad members.

Broadly, it was laid out in how the Laver Cup changed the subject from who would win the most Slams to which part of the globe would be victorious. For once, the conversation did not focus on 20 Slams versus 19, as it had come to be after Nadal’s win at the US Open. It was riveted on how two sportsmen with 39 Slams between them could set aside their competitiveness towards a common goal for a still-mushrooming tourney.

“Winning (as) teams is just amazing because you celebrate together. It’s a very special thing. Honestly, I really hope that this new and young generation keeps supporting this event because this event is special,” Nadal said after Team Europe’s three-peat on Sunday. “We need to make this event stronger and stronger because the atmosphere that we leave here is difficult to find in other places.”

The 33-year-old’s statements, aside from setting aside any cynicism about his involvement in the event this year, emphasised the growth Laver Cup has had in its three years. Nadal’s participation in Laver Cup’s inaugural year was seen as a novelty, a continuation of his and Federer’s triumphant return to the Tour after an injury-troubled 2016. Novak Djokovic’s inclusion in Europe’s 2018 squad was viewed as a reiteration that the event was a fad, where top-ranked players would make a one-off appearance, before stepping away.

In 2019, the 12-time French Open champion’s return contradicted this previously-held supposition. This shifting of perceptions is why Laver Cup has turned problematic to the Tour’s other mainstay events.

If Laver Cup were to be regarded as merely an exhibition, a tournament with no relevance to how the ATP tour progressed year-on-year with its usual clanking schedule, all of the players’ emotiveness and reactions would have been on par with the idea of livening it up for its sake.

https://twitter.com/rogerfederer/status/1176258686269952000

On the other hand, when two former world no. 1s were heard sternly telling their touted successor not to be negative for the rest of his match, it was hard to convince that the whole atmosphere was made-up.

Though, it does bear noting that not being put-on and the ease with which it has been assimilated in tennis’ mainstay have been the catalysts for Laver Cup’s disparaging mooting in certain circles.

The past weekend it coincided with a couple of ATP tournaments, in St. Petersburg and Metz. Both events had several interesting match-ups of their own. Followers deeply vested in the sport knew the happenings across all tournaments held last week. But for casual viewers, it would have come down to picking one event over the rest.

The factoring in of this unnecessary chasm added to the enervation around tennis by making one take sides in a sport that is already at crossroads, without Laver Cup even being mentioned.

Yet, if it were about inclusivity, selectivity in audiences’ preferences is the other side of tennis’ coin. These choices cannot always remain aligned, even in accepting or discarding the tri-day tournament as a consequential pursuit. As Nadal opined, when asked to compare between his other title wins and his Laver Cup team win, “…every single thing is different and is important by itself.”

Continue Reading
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

Trending