Rafael Nadal is in a slump. A deep one. He went through a lot of disappointments in 2011, what with seven losses in finals, including failed defenses of his Wimbledon and U.S. Open titles. He suffered a lot mentally, unable to find an answer to Novak Djokovic in losing six times in six matches against him, particularly in those matches on the clay of Madrid and Rome, where Nadal had been so dominant in the past. The Spaniard has been thrown into chaos by this new situation: he's no longer top dog. And that's not to mention the physical toll he's been under, going straight from the U.S. Open to the Davis Cup to the Asian tour and, for what? A third-set bagel at the hands of Andy Murray and a loss to Florian Mayer? What's wrong with Rafa?
Toni Nadal, his coach and uncle, agrees with Rafa and thinks the mental game is huge and that he'll have to improve on the way he prepares matches against Nole. I partially agree with this point of view because I'm sure that technical and tactical sides can't be dismissed. I also think that Nadal will feel even more sure of him ahead of these matches if he has a clear game plan in mind. Combination of technical, tactical and mental sides will allow Nadal to get back what Djokovic took away from him: the confidence and ability to think he can win the finals.
Finally, I also have to talk about Nadal's communication. For some years now, his words have been humble, almost excessively so: he's never the favorite, the others are; they're always playing better than him and are always in a better shape, and on and on. Surreptitiously, this mode of communication aims to take the pressure away from him and place it on the opponent, and to show himself as very modest. But it had hurt him because it takes his confidence away. By repeating again and again how the others are better than him and that he has everything to prove, I'm sure he ends by being shaken.
Rafael Nadal is now the No. 2 player in the world so there is no reason to panic. It is time to ring the alarm bell though. His confidence, enthusiasm and commitment are his best weapons. Keeping them sharp is essential in order to stay at the top.
- Rafael Nadal
- Novak Djokovic