There is mounting evidence that [CR2] Rafael Nadal (ESP) is having a confidence crisis.
Nadal is known as Rafa and “The King of Clay”; his symbol is “The Bull”. He earned his title as “the King of Clay” because there was period of time when he rarely lost on that surface. He was so dominant on clay that few expected him to transition successfully to other surfaces. He disproved all the naysayers, and despite the fact that he still struggles on other surfaces, he has won Majors and ATP Masters 1000 titles on all surfaces.
I have followed Rafa since he became a professional tennis player. There were three reasons he captured my attention: his competitive nature, his fearless attack of every ball and his desire to never easily concede any point. The first sign of vulnerability was in 2009 when he lost to Robin Soderling at Roland Garros. There were extenuating circumstances; nevertheless, he was badly shaken by that loss. He would not win another tournament until April 2010. He came back with a vengeance and won three ATP Masters 1000 titles and three of the four Majors that year.
Rafa has also struggled with persistent knee issues, at one point, there was speculation on how long he would last. His lack of confidence in the strength and durability of his knees may have also played a role in chipping away at his confidence in his game. The once fearless player was acting very skittish. His confidence would subsequently take a beating when he lost six consecutive finals to Novak Djokovic in 2011, including tournaments on clay. That was when the crack in his veneer of invincibility became obvious.
In 2012 he won only four tournaments and they were all on clay. That was also the year that he had an unexplained early round loss at Wimbledon. Keep in mind, he was runner-up the previous year.
He would stay away from the game after that loss to heal and recover from injury. He came back the following year and had a string of impressive wins, totaling ten titles in 2013. However, once again, there was another unexplained early round loss at Wimbledon. The other thing of note, his losses in finals against Novak Djokovic continued. Although he won a few important tournaments, Djokovic had gotten under his skin.
A string of losses this year to players he had previously dominated, along with a third consecutive early round loss to a lower ranked player at Wimbledon were the final pieces of evidence needed to confirm that Rafa is struggling with his confidence. Even on clay, he has struggled. Is injury the only reason? His normal rituals have become excessive and he has developed new antics at the service line that displays his nervousness. Rafa is a fighter, he gives 100% in every point of every match; however, his waning confidence may be the one thing that he cannot overcome.