Will Rafa Lose His Number Two Ranking?

Rafael Nadal lost a lopsided match to David Nalbandian today but he could lose much more.

People at the Madrid Masters Series event saw Rafael Nadal noticeably limping after his win over Andy Murray yesterday. If you knew that, you would have been surprised but not shocked with the score of Rafa’s loss to David Nalbandian today: 6-1, 6-2.

When was the last time Rafa lost a match that badly? In October 2002, he lost to Albert Portas in a Barcelona challenger, 6-2, 6-1. Rafa was 16 years old at the time.

The match with Murray was brutal for both players. I’ve seldom seen two such exceptional defensive players go at it so hard on such a fast surface. It looked like a compact version of an interminable clay court match. The kind of match you’d get if you kept all the good points and threw away everything else.

This is Rafa’s first event since the U.S. Open and only his fourth hard court event since the spring clay court season ended. His knees were already hurting by the time Wimbledon rolled around and he broke down in Cincinnati altogether. He arrived at the Open with bum knees.

And now, the day after a very tough match, he can barely play. If it keeps going like this, and it certainly could, he’ll end up focusing on the clay court season and Wimbledon and live with that.

Nalbandian wasn’t just twiddling his thumbs on the other side of the net. He took the ball early and he flattened out his strokes to take time away from Rafa. Still, you couldn’t see Rafa limping on court but you could see he was in trouble.

In Rafa’s second service game, Nalbandian hit a ball behind him but Rafa couldn’t stop and change his direction well enough to get to it. Stopping and starting on these gritty indoor surfaces is very hard on knees. Serving at 1-5 in the first set, Rafa twice went for winners much earlier in the point that he normally would. Both times he hit errors and the second one gave Nalbandian a set point which he converted.

Nalbandian got five breaks of serve in the match. Rafa didn’t even get a break point. That’s how bad it was.

This must have been very tough for Rafa to swallow but it could be worse than just a lopsided loss. If Novak Djokovic keeps rolling, he could pass Rafa for the number two spot in the year end rankings. Djokovic has already qualified for Shanghai so he would be smart to skip Paris and I don’t see him listed as entering any tournaments next week.

Rafa might not lose his number two ranking to Djokovic this year but it doesn’t look good from here on out. And that is very sad because Rafa had the skills and the will to overtake Federer. As Rafa sat in his chair towards the end of the match, he looked sad himself.

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