Michael Emmett: “Is Nadal on the Downside of his Career?”

Written by: Michael Emmett


***Michael Emmett is the Director of Tennis Operations at all Mayfair clubs.  He is a certified Tennis Canada Coach 3 with a Journalism degree from the University of Texas. Michael spent several years working in sports television at TSN and Sportsnet.  Michael is a former National champion who finished his last year of junior tennis ranked #1 in Canada.  Michael has coached several National champions when he worked for the All-Canadian Academy at the National Tennis Centre at York University in the early 90s.  Michael spent 2 years traveling the world playing the ATP tour satellite circuit as a member of the Molson National Team in 1985 and ’86.***


Before his thrashing of Novak Djokovic this past Sunday in Monte Carlo, many sporting pundits had written off Rafael Nadal, questioning his ability to win more major championships.

How quickly they forget.

If he stays healthy, there is a good chance he’ll win one, perhaps two majors this year – and remember this is the year we have 5 major championships – with the Olympics taking place between Wimbledon and the US Open.

Talk of his decline is ridiculous and ignorant.

The Lefty from Mallorca is as good as he’s ever been. He is the heavy favourite to win in Paris later in May, and surpass Hall of Famer Bjorn Borg for the all-time lead in French titles, with seven. And don’t forget, he’s quite capable of pulling off the rare double, with a win a few weeks later at the lawns of Wimbledon.  He’s done it before, and now with his confidence soaring, he’s likely to be a real threat on the faster courts in London.

His serve has improved immensely – he’s added several clicks on the radar gun – especially the heater down the ‘T’ in the add court.  This new weapon caught Djokovic off guard several times on Sunday, as he opened up the can-opener when he really needed a free point.  His improved serve makes his penetrating ground strokes that much more lethal.  And this was evident throughout the entire week in Monaco, as he never came close to losing a set – beating the world number one, 6-3, 6-1.

Nadal won an unbelievable 85 percent of his first-serve points in this match – on red-clay, nonetheless, against a guy who has the best return game known to man.  Since Djokovic has been #1, he has not lost this many points on an opponent’s first serve, not even to big servers, like John Isner. The numbers, in my opinion, are staggering.

Nadal has now won a record 20 Masters Titles, one more than Roger Federer.   Nadal was hardly troubled by Djokovic, and broke the Serb’s serve five times in a totally one-sided contest to clinch his 42nd straight win in Monte Carlo – his first title since last year’s French Open and the 47th of his career.

Remarkably, Nadal has now won the title in Monte Carlo for a record 8th straight year.  Nadal leads 17-14, head-to-head, but it was his first win over Djokovic since a group-stage match at the 2010 ATP Finals in London. The Serb had beaten Nadal in three consecutive Grand Slam finals, and handed him his only defeats on clay last year.

Nadal is only 25 years old. How can he be considered on the downside of his career? Is it because he’s lost 7 of his last 8 matches to Djokovic, all in finals, including the 5-hour, 53-minute Australian Open title epic in January, which was one of the greatest matches in tennis history?

Let’s hope not.  This match should have added to his overall legacy. Nadal was quite unlucky not to win that match – a match that would have put him within 5 of the ultimate destination.

Nadal is a relentless competitor who has double digit majors to his name, and who is a real threat to equal Roger Federer’s 16 major titles.

In 2011 alone, Nadal appeared in 10 finals, and only twice failed to reach the quarterfinals of a tournament. Nadal was instrumental in helping Spain win the coveted Davis Cup in December, with a thrilling comeback victory over Juan Martin Del Potro.

Unfortunately, his recent string of losses to Djokovic has turned him into a legend in decline. Sunday’s massacre of the world number one may have changed a few opinions out there – but for the most part, we (the tennis community) have disregarded his chances at continued greatness.

To decline is to lose routinely to lesser players – Nadal never does this.

Hall of Fame pitcher, Bob Gibson, quit when inferior hitters blasted him off the mound, like when Pete LaCock hit a grand slam off him in 1975.  It was his final game in the big leagues – he knew it was time to go.

Tiger Woods has declined. He was the greatest golfer in the game, and he dropped to #23 in the world rankings last year.  He’s lost to guys, who once blinked when he stared them down; he’s missed putts that once defined his invincibility.

On March 21, 2011, Andy Roddick was ranked eighth in the world. Ten times over the next year, he failed to reach the 4th round of a tournament.  Roddick dropped to #29, and became the third-ranked American, behind Mardy Fish and John Isner, through April 23.  That’s what a player in decline looks like.

And this most certainly doesn’t look like Rafael Nadal.

Anybody who thinks Nadal is finished, doesn’t understand sports. The guy has the heart of a lion and will be a dominant player in the years to come.  He has battled through numerous injuries, and he’ll continue to overcome, just as he’s always done.  Winning majors isn’t like it used to be.  Now you have to win 7 consecutive matches against quality opponents in every round.  With Djokovic, Federer and Murray all playing brilliant tennis, the task is that much harder.  However, from a mental perspective, there is no-one tougher in the game today than Nadal.  He showed the world this past Sunday that when he is healthy, he is the greatest clay court player of all time.  And later in May, at Roland Garros, the numbers will back him up.

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