Players have adjusted to Nadal but Nadal hasn’t made any adjustment himself.
After Rafael Nadal reached the Wimbledon final, we were all ready to crown him the all-court player we desperately needed to stave off Federer boredom – “Federer won again? Really? That’s surprising.” But Nadal hasn’t played well since. Last fall he won three hard court tournaments and early this year he won in Dubai. But in the four tournaments since Wimbledon this year, the farthest he’s gone is the quarterfinals.
Is something wrong with Nadal?
Nothing is wrong with him, it’s just that players have figured out how to play him on hard courts. If they serve big they can avoid getting into long rallies with him. If they hit hard, flat shots, they can keep him from retrieving the ball. Juan Carlos Ferrero beat him in Cincinnati by going for winners at every opportunity. Last week, Joachim Johansson, a big server, beat him in the second round at Stockholm. His opponent in the third round here in Madrid, Tomas Berdych, has beaten him the last two times they’ve met, both on hard court.
He beat him again today, 6-3, 7-6(6). Berdych dictated the points from the beginning by playing aggressively. Nadal can usually turn defensive shots into winners but today, his winners total went down as the match progressed. Nadal had his chances in the second set but Berdych kept saving break points with aces.
Berdych may have the answer to Nadal’s problem. Players have adjusted to Nadal but Nadal hasn’t made any adjustment himself. “…he’s just running on the back of the court, and he’s running beside the linesman,” Berdych said. Meaning that Nadal is playing far behind the baseline instead of moving forward and changing up his attack. As an example, Roger Federer has a 4-1 record over Berdych because, Berdych said, “he’s chipping all the balls and he’s playing more smart on my game.”
Berdych would have more than two titles by now but his physical game is still ahead of his mental game. After the last point of the match today he put his finger to his mouth as if to tell the crowd to be quiet then he kissed off the crowd. He was mad that they’d applauded his mistakes. As Berdych and Nadal shook hands at the net, Nadal told Berdych that he was a bad guy to have gestured as he did.
Berdych isn’t the first person to gesture to the crowd this week. Robbie Ginepri gave them the hook’em horns hand sign during his match with Spaniard Feliciano Lopez. But Ginepri is not that mature either and it doesn’t serve much purpose to piss off the number two player in the world, it just makes Berdych’s job that much harder.
Is Berdych better than Nadal? Considering that Nadal has seventeen titles and Berdych has two, the answer would have to be no. Not yet, anyway, and he’s never going to match Nadal’s title count on clay, but he should be able to compile more hard court titles in his career than Nadal.
Nadal isn’t the all-round player we’ve been pining for and that’s not a bad thing because the answer will come from a number of different places. It won’t be just Federer and Nadal, it’ll be Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic and Tomas Berdych and Marcos Baghdatis.
As for the other quarterfinals, well, Federer won again. He beat Robbie Ginepri, 6-3, 7-6(4). David Nalbandian stopped Marat Safin in a very tough match, 6-4, 6-7(6), 7-6(2), and Djokovic almost made it a “young talent” semifinal with Berdych but lost to Fernando Gonzalez, 7-5, 5-7, 7-5.