During the early days of his captivating rivalry with Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer once shared a very interesting opinion about his rival. The Swiss maestro assessed that the Spaniard’s game was too predictable.
However, it was more a compliment than a case of him claiming to have spotted Nadal’s weakness. Federer elaborated that despite the fact he knew exactly what to expect when going against Nadal, the Spaniard executes his predictable plan to such perfection that he becomes very difficult to beat.
It seems now that all the points and oration of Nadal’s dominance and his staggering achievements are reduced to just being chapters of a history book. A 14-time grand slam champion has fallen off his perch. His losses this year to less prominent players hardly come across as a surprise anymore and are treated as a norm.
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At present, Nadal occupies an unflattering seventh position in the world rankings. Often being bogged down by a multitude of injuries in his career, he is now confronting newer demons.
Upon his return from injury this year, Nadal has failed to replicate the same level of play which had exalted him to astonishing heights in the past. Not marred by any fitness problems, he is finding it difficult to compete mentally with his opponents. His play has lost the sting about it, that venomous forehand disfigured and the intensity having waned to alarming low levels.
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Not having won a grand slam for a stretch of six majors, and more worryingly him not even looking close to halting this sequence, it is time Nadal did a thorough review of his current predicament and came up with answers to arrest his poor form.
Nadal’s analysis linking his plummeting fortunes to a dip in his confidence level is not far off from right, though this assessment is incomplete.
There are multiple aspects which he needs to evaluate in order to come up with a systematic acknowledgement of his problems and subsequently, engineer the essential solutions.
At 29 years of age, and with the fragile condition of his knees, Nadal cannot expect to continue with the same tactics which have fetched him success over the years.
His game-plan earlier being reliant on agility, court covering, stamina and physique, his body is now unwilling to go by this script. An alteration in the basic framework of his game is the need of the hour.
Nadal possess all the shots in the book; an incisive forehand a deft touch at the net and a decent counter-punching backhand. All these pieces need to be assembled to constitute a new playing model.
He needs to abandon his defense-centered gameplay, and adopt a more offensive posture featuring an attempt to shorten the points, make far more net approaches and pulling the trigger early on in a rally.
New coach needed?
More importantly perhaps, he should make an addition to his support team to break the monotonous blueprint that he is implementing. A new coach will bring with him/her new innovative ideas, a different view and definition of the perceived challenges and revitalize a fierce desire of winning.
Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer and Andy Murray have all benefited from teaming up with new coaches. For Nadal, desperate to witness change in his form, a change in coaching team is where it can all start for him.
Then, another area where Nadal can do a bit of tweaking is his season schedule. He needs to cut it short, skip a couple of ATP Masters 1000 events and shift his entire focus on grand slam events. That is one way for him to better manage his fitness problems in a punishing eleven-month season.
Trepidation and nerves have been all too visible in Nadal’s outings of late. Often just hoping to draw errors from the opponent’s racquet, but making shots far too short for that to happen, players are clubbing winners against him for sport.
Nadal needs to change this homogeneity in his game. With the varying demands and requirements of the contemporary era, he should make necessary adjustments and start evolving to once again reinvigorate his status as one of the game’s heavyweights.
Federer was right about Nadal all those years ago when he said his game was too predictable. A compliment though at the time, it now presents the biggest impediment in his path to reinstatement.
And now is the time for him to act. Refresh his coaching team, chalk out a strategy conscientious of the current challenges and execute it in the coming months.
He may not be a frontrunner anymore, but he has it in him to once again make a strong comeback. If he does make the necessary adjustments as discussed, I am confident we will see a completely different Nadal to what we have witnessed this year.
Federer is thriving under the tutelage of a new coaching regime and invented the SABR (Sneaky Attack By Roger) shot. Let us hope Nadal is also in his lab right now inventing his own new shots to prove that he is not predictable.