Most of the time, when a player is up against Rafael Nadal, he looks to me as if there's little strategy. It's almost as if the player knows he won't succeed so he doesn't try as hard. A self-fulfilling prophecy, if you will. It's like he already knows he's going to lose, is resigned about it and, worst of all, he helps Nadal's best abilities to shine. So even if very few of his opponents seem to be sure about it: Nadal isn't unbeatable. He's still a human being, with strengths and weaknesses. He's capable of a bad day, just like all of us.
Don't get me wrong; I'm fully aware of Nadal's great abilities in the game, of his fighting spirit too, of him being a true champion. But I want to see him confronted with players who are really going to make him struggle. Like Soderling at the French Open in 2009, like Gulbis in Rome this season (even if Nadal won that match) or like a Murray at the Australian Open. There are a lot of tactics to explore against Nadal.
I admit that I admire the outstanding champion that is Rafa, but I'm also annoyed to see the behavior of his opponents coming in without a clear plan. It's already like climbing Everest, so coming without weapons and being shy to fight is pure recklessness. As I've detailed in my last article, there are very few flaws in the Spaniard's game. Add that Nadal is improving month after month and beating him becomes less like scaling Everest and more like going to Mars. Anyway, and that's this sport's beauty, there's always an opportunity for someone who has nothing to lose and can capitalize on weaknesses. Yes, I want to see players pushing Nadal to his last defense. Yes, I want to see him struggling. If his opponents would make him do so, he'd improve even more because he'd have no choice if he wants to continue he quest toward history.
If most of the players would battle him with this kind of spirit, they would also improve a lot and would believe even more in their own abilities. It would go hand-in-hand. I was recently talking with a Top 10 player who was complaining about Roger and Rafa's level of play, which was preventing a lot of others to believe that they could get to the top and was pushing them to accept their loss in advance. He was admitting those two giant's superiority. The issue is that thinking this way means you're resigned to lose. It kills the fight before it has even started. At the end of the day, tennis is the biggest loser.
Andy Murray is one of those who, in the years to come, could, provided he makes some adjustments, dethrone Nadal. He's one of the main contenders for Rafa because his game is one of the most complete ones. He possesses a lot of weapons to oppose to the Spaniard's domination. That may actually be his biggest problem though: too many options kill the choice and the plan. The Scotsman needs a plan. He knows how to speed up the game and he can take the ball very early. A very good serve and outstanding return are also benefits. He's a wonderful counterpuncher and can defend like few others. In order to contest Nadal in the Grand Slams, he's still going to have to improve, which he hasn't done for two years now.
Murray can beat Nadal in big tournaments, but not the biggest ones. Andy is perfectly capable of getting him in the Slams though. Take chances, stay focused, be aggressive and keep determined -- that's what he needs to do.
Mentally, Murray makes a huge deal about playing Nadal. He plays him differently than he does the lesser players. In those matches Murray often tries to push his opponent to make mistakes, rarely dictates the game or, when he does it, it's in a really shy way. All those tactics are messing his game against the best. He's not able to grow up as an offensive player, one who hits the ball each time with a clear will of being the boss on the court. To fight against Rafa, he has to build this game all year long, in all his matches. He has to train with this mindset, one of a player whose aim is to win the point and not to make his opponent lose it.
Andy has won a lot of matches by playing it sfae. Really gifted for counterpunching, he also knows how to be offensive. This is what makes his strength but also his weak side. He keeps hesitating and fighting his mind. He doesn't know to defend or attack. His game has no clear identity. The issue is that when you face Nadal in a Grand Slam, you need to be confident enough in yourself, in your game, in your style. Murray's current game isn't sufficient anymore because Nadal is stronger than him in this cat and mouse game. Andy now must change his game plan and prevent Nadal from entering this battle on the baseline he likes so much. Andy should try to serve and volley way more, take the ball earlier and to hit harder. He should take his chances on all Nadal's second serves.
When you want to beat Nadal, you have to master all of these areas of the game and perfectly. In order to do that, Murray needs to play that brand of tennis all year long. Andy Murray is at a crossroads. He's nearly reached his limit with his current game. Today, he has to start down the new road to follow.