Sunday, 3 July 2011

Rafael Nadal - The Aftermath

Courtesy & Video: Official Wimbledon Website

The sign of a true champion is how well he takes defeat. And judging by the way he explained his four-set pummelling by Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal is a true champion. He may have been outplayed and out-manoeuvred for the best part of two-and-a-half hours but the beaten finalist took the defeat on the chin and owned up to his failings. There are not many men who would be as honest or as open in such a situation.

The reason for his defeat could be explained simply and swiftly: he was just not good enough to beat Djokovic. He did not take his chances, he was nervous and he was outplayed. After losing four Masters finals to the Serb this year - in Indian Wells, Miami, Madrid and Rome - he was twitchy in the pressure moments on Centre Court. Nadal made it all sound so logical and so normal.

"I lost because I am playing against the best player of the moment, the best player of the world tomorrow, and
I am the second," he said. "And when you play against these players and they are playing unbelievable, the normal thing is [to] lose. That's what happened the last few times.

"He's doing great. He's doing fantastic. I had to play better to win, and I didn't today. I played a little bit less aggressive. And to win matches here, to win tough matches like today, like two days ago, the most important thing is to play well in the important moments. A few points can change the match, and I didn't (win them) today. When one player beats you five times, it is because my game doesn't bother him a lot. Today probably against me he's playing better than my level. And I have to try to find solutions..."

You don't often get that from a player who has just lost the one title that means more to him than anything else in the world. From the time he first played tennis, Wimbledon was always a dream for Nadal. Growing up playing on the slow, red clay of Majorca, he knew that Spaniards were expected to do well at Roland Garros - sure enough, he did not disappoint and to date has won six times there. But on grass? At Wimbledon?

Now, that really would be something. So when he won his first title in 2008, it meant everything to him, and after that win he extended his unbeaten run in SW19 to 20 matches until that man Djokovic did for him in the final. That must have hurt. Apparently not.

"I lost against him five times," he said. "The rest of the year I won almost every match. So I'm doing things very well (but) probably not against him. That's what I have to change. Probably the mental part is a little bit dangerous for me, because when I arrived at 5‑4, I played a bad game from 30‑0. When I arrived at 4‑3 in the fourth set, I played another bad game with my serve. To change that (I) probably (needed to) be a little bit less nervous, play more aggressive, and all the time be confident with myself. That's what I going to try next time. If not, I am going to be here explaining the sixth [loss]."

Nadal was defeated, then, but not beaten. No one has been able to come close to catching the Serb this year as he sailed around the world collecting titles like they were going out of fashion. He has only lost one match in the past seven months and now, with the Wimbledon trophy sitting proudly alongside his No.1 ranking, he has reached every target and made every dream come true. That is a nice feeling, as Nadal can attest, but it will not last forever.

Last year the Spaniard won three of the four Grand Slams - only Australia eluded him - and he was on top of the world. That is when Djokovic came roaring up behind him and knocked him off his perch. Life can change very quickly in professional sport and Nadal is already plotting a way to change Djokovic's view of the world.

"We can analyse that my game is not bothering him," Nadal said. "We have to find how I can bother him another time. I did it in the past. He's in the best moment of his career. I am in one of the best moments of my career, (but it's) still not enough for (me to beat) him. My experience says this level is not forever. Even for me when I was winning three Grand Slams last year, my level is not forever. Probably the level of Novak of today is not forever. I'm going to be here fighting all the time, waiting for my moment. I don't have to wait a lot, because I already won three tournaments this year and one Grand Slam. But (I am) waiting for my moment to beat him another time."

Nadal, then, has flung down the gauntlet. He may be a true champion in defeat but, clearly, he is not planning on making a habit of it.

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