Shanghai Rolex Masters, China
Men’s Semifinal: [CR7] Rafael Nadal (ESP) vs. [CR15] Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (FRA)
It was always going to be a difficult match for Nadal, actually, it seems that lately that’s the way I think about every match Nadal is about to play. I am one of Nadal’s biggest fans; I have admired his game from the first time I saw him play, because I realized how much harder he had to work to achieve his success. His determination has made him a very successful tennis star; however, I cannot deny or pretend that he’s playing the way he used to when he was a dominant force on the tour. Too many losses and too much information about his psychological state has tarnished his image. Players no longer feel threatened when they step on court against him, even lowly ranked players. Now more than ever, when he needs to work harder, his body has let him down. Nadal the fighter wants to get back to the level he once was, but he is no longer only battling his opponents, he’s also battling an aging body and a mind weakened by his emotions.
There were more periods of “vintage Nadal” in these last two tournaments; yet, on closer examination you can still see the cracks in his game. He does not exude that confident stride he once had, his shots that were once so precise are resulting in frequent errors, and he is still not dictating play as he once did. That last factor may be the biggest reason he is still struggling; however, it is also the aspect of his game most susceptible to his mental state. I sense his frustration and I can only image how hard Nadal is working to change things and today’s 4-6, 6-0, 5-7 loss to Tsonga has to be a disappointing setback for him. Nevertheless, I know Nadal will find a way to take the positives from this tournament and build on them. Will he ever get back to his old dominant self on court? That is a question even Nadal still struggles to answer with conviction.