MY TWO CENTS: What you think impacts every aspect of your life. It is no different on the tennis court. What has caused Nadal’s apparently sudden development of doubts/anxieties/fears? The trigger may have been one major incident; however, often it is a multitude of little incidents that chip away at one’s confidence. Yet, one has to have a predisposing vulnerability that makes them susceptible to attack. The erosion of Nadal’s confidence began with his repeated struggles with injury, particularly his knees. When you are unable to trust your body, doubts creep into your subconscious. Will you be able to stay with your opponents in long rallies? Will you get injured in this match? How many times must you fight to rehabilitate from another injury? When you comeback, will you be at the level you once were? All these questions must have plagued Nadal every time he had to recover from yet another injury. Add to this, his bout of appendicitis and you can understand why Nadal is struggling mentally.
What the world saw in the last two-three years was an illusion, beneath the surface Nadal was a mass of doubts. That’s why he goes through those endless rituals every time he plays, they calm his anxieties. However, to maintain the external façade of confidence that he showed his opponents and the world took a lot of willpower. Unfortunately, the energy required to do so was being depleted with each additional injury sustained and eventually a small fissure appeared in his confidence, which widened with every “unexpected” loss he suffered. After his thrashing at the hands of Novak Djokovic in Doha, I realized that Nadal is still a long way from his “A” game. When he failed to close out Fernando Verdasco in the fourth set in the first round of the Australian Open yesterday, I knew Nadal was in serious trouble. You will not win if you do not believe you can or deserve to win. How does he rebuild his confidence when to do so requires winning and he’s not winning when it matters?
Nadal needs to walk away from tennis, perhaps not retire, but take a break and change his focus. Then he may rediscover his passion for the sport without all the obsessive hang-ups that are wearing him out mentally and inevitably physically. Nadal is and will always be a Champion in my eyes; he needs to trust that knowledge and remember how great he is.