Thursday, 22 September 2011

Rafael Nadal - How To Beat Djokovic

Three ways Rafael Nadal can overcome his Novak Djokovic problem

In the past nine months, Rafael Nadal has lost six straight matches, his No.1 ranking and his status as the future of tennis to Novak Djokovic. How can Rafa regain his mojo?

1. Realize that there is no problem. Why do we think Djokovic is in Nadal's head? Two reasons: First, Djokovic has defeated Nadal six straight times in 2011 including at back-to-back Grand Slams and in two clay court finals. Second, Nadal basically tells people that Djokovic is in head. Together, they are compelling pieces of evidence that Nadal's problem isn't physical, but mental. Look at them separately: A supposedly beatdown Nadal got down two sets to Djokovic in excruciating fashion at the U.S. Open and then came down from a break down to capture a preposterous 84-minute set. Would a beaten man have kept fighting so hard? And as for Nadal's comments, the guy has always treated every interview like a session on a shrink's couch. He's lost one match at the French Open in his career and to listen to him speak in the Roland Garros press room, you'd think he was like a cow on ice.

2. Get back to basics. And by basics, I mean clay. We can debate where Djokovic's current season ranks or whether Federer was better than Pete Sampras or Rod Laver or whether any of them would have beaten Borg at his prime. What's not up for debate is Nadal's status as the greatest clay court player of all time. By beating him in Madrid and Rome this year, Djokovic threw a curveball to Nadal's clay supremacy. Rafa still win the French, of course; he didn't have to go through Novak. The best way for him to get back on top is to prepare for the 2012 clay season like it's his Super Bowl. Dominate all the tournaments on the red clay, hope to meet Djokovic in the French Open final and show the sports world that Djokovic may be the best on hard courts right now, but that he is the best on clay courts in history.

3. Wait. Be patient. There are ebbs and flows in all sports and Djokovic is at his undeniable peak right now but he's not going to keep it up forever. How is he going to react when he enters next season as the hunted man? Or after he spends two months back in Serbia hearing how wonderful he is? Or when he Nike or adidas gives him millions to leave Sergio Tacchini? Will he train as hard? Be as hungry? Stay in as good of shape?

Nadal shouldn't overreact. Djokovic is playing at one of the highest levels tennis has ever seen and Rafa was one 17-minute game and an injury timeout away from making a tight match even more competitive. Rafa didn't panic when he got down to Djokovic and I don't expect him to panic now either.

Courtesy: BustedRacquet

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