Wondering If Rafa Will Ever Be Rafa Again
Rafael Nadal returned to tennis this week in Chile and as many pundits forecasted, he was not in peak form. In fact he was far from it. Horacio Zeballos, a journeyman from Argentina, played the match of his life to stun Nadal 67 76 64 to collect his first ATP singles title.
Zeballos, who cried tears of joy and fell on his back like he won a Grand Slam title after match point, wowed the packed stadium of Chileans with some spectacular shots to close out Nadal, who appeared to lack penetration from the baseline and his movement seems to be missing a fraction of speed and zip, especially on the wide balls.
Zeballos struggled to finish off Berlocq in the semi but in today’s final, with the stakes much greater, ironically, he performed like an experienced champion, stunning Nadal with a delicate drop shot and damaging, angled shots from the baseline which Nadal simply could not handle or reach. Zeballos actually won the final six points of the match. Sure, Rafa may have temporarily forgotten the intricacies involved in how to close out pressure matches but to get blown away in the home stretch by Zeballos was rather shocking to witness.
Or perhaps, it’s an ominous sign. Maybe Nadal may have lost his mojo in the long, seven-month hiatus since Wimbledon. With that unreliable knee, he might have lost a crucial half-step of speed. In boxing and tennis speed is power and speed kills, that iota of speed, reflexes or anticipation could be what separates the former King of Clay from ever ruling the throne again.
I expected Nadal to be fully prepared to play top-notch tennis in Chile and to win the title over a non-descript field, for two reasons, he’s Rafa Nadal and he’s had plenty of time to prepare. Remember, Monica Seles came back after about two years away from pro matches and in her first WTA event back she won in Toronto and then made the finals at the US Open, losing in three sets to Graf.
This result in Vina Del Mar could be a troubling sign for Nadal’s future in 2013 and beyond. We really don’t know if Rafa will regain his former mastery. And nobody is going to let him without a fight. All the other ATP players will have seen what Zeballos did to Rafa in Chile, and they will hardly have any mercy for Nadal when they get their chance to knock off the former ATP #1.
Rafa Nadal made his first steps back to professional tennis but the journey will be a very long one to regain his post at the ATP mountaintop.