Rafael Nadal seems to be getting desperate. At least, that is how it seems to a few of the experts, given the Spaniard’s perplexing decision to return to Hamburg for a tournament on clay, two weeks before the start of the American hard-court swing with the Montreal Masters on August 10.
Common wisdom would suggest the Spaniard could have used this week to prepare himself for the gruelling hard-court season instead and a Rafael Nadal of, say 2013 or earlier, would have done just that.
But the Rafael Nadal of 2015 is a different animal – he is not the fearless matador we have grown accustomed to seeing over the years; not the same beast we have watched perform countless acts of awe.
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The Nadal of today is a pale shadow of that man, shaken and searching for confidence. And what better place to find it than his favourite surface?
Yes, he has looked mortal on clay as well this season, finishing the European clay-court swing without a title for the first time since 2005.
But he has won a title on the surface this year, in Buenos Aires, and a good show in Hamburg could turn the tide for Nadal, according to his uncle and coach Toni.
“For him, the transition from one surface to another is always a problem,” Toni said. “However, I think that playing Hamburg will help him.
“If he will play a good tournament he will play tournaments in America with more confidence.”
If this strategy fails, however, and Nadal goes on to have a miserable summer on hard courts, the knives will certainly be out for Toni again.
“Get a new damn coach!” John McEnroe, the American seven-time major winner, said on the BBC following Nadal’s second-round loss to qualifier Dustin Brown at Wimbledon last month in four sets.
Referring to Toni, McEnroe added: “He has done a magnificent job since he [Rafa] was a little kid … but clearly at this stage it would appear that some fresh ideas would be in order.”
Many others have voiced similar opinions since, but Nadal is probably right in not making that decision just yet.
The coach is not his problem, or solution, at the moment, and, for once, his health is not an issue either. The problem, as both Toni and Rafa have said, is mental.
The 14-time grand slam champion has often been described as neurotic for his on-court rituals and idiosyncrasies, which include picking at his underwear and placing his water bottles in a certain direction.
According to estimates, Nadal has around 12 pre-serve compulsions and about 20 on-court rituals, and he must perform all of them to get “the order I seek in my head”.
That order seems to be missing at the moment and no coach can help him find it.
Nadal will have to go looking on his own; clay courts are his best chance of finding it.
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