© Reuters/Alessia Pierdomenico
Before Rafael Nadal could step into the world of competitive tennis, he first had to beat his fragile body. A serious foot injury at 19 should of ended his career but his love for the game prevented him from walking away. To conquer his foot problem, the Spaniard wore specially made shoes, fully aware that his knees and back would buckle under the pressure. Many tennis pundits had predicted a short career for Nadal. But after turning pro in 2001, the Mallorcan has racked up an impressive 14 Grand Slams, 27 ATP World Tour 1000 events and an Olympic Gold Medal at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
His career has been plagued by injury with three Grand Slam no shows in the past three years and have led many to question whether he can still challenge for the top echelon. 2015 has been one of his worst seasons since turning pro, for the first time in a decade he doesn’t have a Grand Slam to his name. Nadal has only beaten two top 10 players this year and has seen his ranking fall to No. 8. The clay season like many times before has offered him a safety blanket, but that hasn’t been the case this year. His record is 26 wins to 6 losses (81%).
For many that would be a spectacular record, but not for someone like Nadal who has gone most seasons undefeated or suffering the odd loss or two on crushed brick. Calls have grown louder to make changes to his coaching team or even get married to reverse his imminent slump. There is no doubt that his style of play is conducive to injury but few would of expected such a swift decline. He is no longer physically imposing like a few years ago and more and more players are hitting the ball harder, forcing Nadal on the back foot.
On a more positive note, the 29 year-old sits comfortably at No. 7 in the race to London and has won three titles this year with an opportunity to add a fourth in Beijing. As recently as last season, he was an Australian Open finalist and French Open champion with Federer’s all time Grand Slam record seemingly close. In the space of twelve months, that has evaporated with Novak Djokovic being the biggest beneficiary with no consistent challenger at the Grand Slam level apart from an aging Federer.
What has been most surprising is that fact that Nadal has been quite frank about his decline saying things like “I’m not the player I once was” and “I might not win another Grand Slam.” It makes me wonder as to how a player can go about winning matches on a consistent basis with that kind of mindset. Opponents will that as ammunition for e.g. Dustin Brown at Wimbledon. The problem is not a physical one but a mental one. This is where a super coach can be of benefit in restoring the equilibrium and instilling belief into Nadal that he can once again contend for major titles.