In a thought-provoking article in a leading US daily after Rafael Nadal bowed out the US Open after squandering a two-set lead over Italian Fabio Fognini, the writer, obviously a die-hard Rafa fan, seems to suggest that the man from Mallorca will rebound from possibly his worst showing in a calendar year. Tennis pundits would, however, beg to differ. The Spaniard with the never-say-die attitude seems have lost the self-belief that made him such a great champion. Even on his beloved clay he seemed strangely vulnerable.
The King of clay seemed a pale shadow of his former self and lost to opponents that rarely troubled him in the past. A troublesome knee seems to be <g data-gr-id="37">most</g> obvious reason, suggest experts in sports medicine. Many don’t seem to buy this argument. The problem seems more deep-seated, and possibly mental. Somewhere, Rafa seems to have lost that mental edge that made a tennis icon. His defeat at the hands of maverick journeyman Dustin Brown in Wimbledon was possibly one of the lowest points in his exemplary career. The heartening thing is that man himself seems to believe he’ll be back. Nadal has always been a gracious loser and magnanimous in defeat throughout his career. This year he summed up one heartbreaking defeat after another in the most stoic manner.
“I had good feelings in the <g data-gr-id="38">match,</g> but lost to a better man”, this seemed to be his trademark reply. While the tennis fraternity <g data-gr-id="36">celebrate</g> the dawn of a new rivalry between Serbia’s Novak Djokovic and Swiss maestro Roger Federer, one seems to forget the man Federer feared the most- the muscular Mallorcan called Nadal.
Nadal’s soul-stirring return from an injury-induced break in 2013 is the stuff of legends. No one gave him a ghost of a chance, but he proved naysayers wrong in the most emphatic fashion. Tennis experts are already writing off the legendary Spaniard. Is it the end of the road for one of the greatest tennis players of all time? Logic seems to suggest it possibly is. There have been comebacks in modern sports that defy all reasoning. Will Nadal add to his 14 Grand Slam titles in 2016? The heart seems to say yes, but the mind says no. As Novak Djokovic basks in the afterglow of another sterling year, will he trade ground strokes with Nadal on the red clay of France next year for the one slam not yet in his trophy cabinet? Incurable Rafa backers would be praying so. Does Nadal have the burning desire to make one final push in 2016? Tennis historians are already predicting the end, but stranger things have happened in sport. Vamos Rafa!