As the sun set on an early July evening, a true sporting god quietly packed up his racquets and left the centre court of Wimbledon as a mere mortal.
Whilst this hadn’t been the first time Rafael Nadal had been humbled at the cradle of tennis, this time seemed a more damning defeat. Maybe it was the manner of the defeat or maybe it was the fact that the King of Clay had been dethroned a month earlier by his nemesis Novak Djokovic.
Maybe it was because, to all that had watched his latest comeback from injury, Nadal seemed a shadow of his former self.
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Tennis, as with all one on one sports can be brutal, especially to those who have stumbled or fallen from the summit due to injury or burn out.
The constant travelling and training regime for someone who plays tennis like a man possessed, must surely take its toll eventually? This time Nadal just seemed different.
To the casual tennis fan, all seemed normal with his game. Yet watch closer and you could see that although the normal Rafa routines were still in place and his whirlwind physical presence was still on show to his opponents, when it came to the crunch, his inner belief that had taken him over the finishing line to 14 Grand Slam titles, just wasn’t there.
For the first time in his career there was doubt. A wavering of a will to win that, for many, had made Nadal the greatest of all times.
One by one, all of his normally guaranteed clay court titles slipped from his grasp but surely Roland Garros would be the place where he was resurrected? Djokovic had other ideas and Rafa was swept aside.
The king is dead; long live the king they cried in Paris.
Wawrinka put a hold on Djokovic's dream to complete his career Grand Slam. Djokovic however, would not be silenced and just a few weeks later he stood astride the tennis world again as he defended his Wimbledon crown.
Meanwhile Nadal had long since departed the scene, more proof, if it was needed, that this time there is no coming back for the man from Majorca.
Is the king dead?
No one quite knows what must have been going on in Nadal's head as he headed home to the comfort of his home in the Balearics. Having already confessed to self doubt earlier in the year it must have seemed that the vultures were circling, ready to swoop in and finish off what was left of his career.
Fast forward three weeks and Nadal strode back into the heat of battle, out onto the clay courts of Hamburg. Clay courts at this time of year I hear you ask?
While Djokovic, Federer and Murray prepare for the U.S. hard court swing and the last slam of the year in New York, Nadal has opted to regain some confidence in a 500 ATP clay court event.
Whilst Rafa's decision to play in this event would seem a sensible plan, could it also be seen as an act of desperation by his once nearest rivals?
Confidence is everything in sport and at the time of writing, Nadal has just crushed Andreas Seppi 6-1,6-2 to set up a final against Fognini.
Interestingly, Fognini has been victorious against Nadal in their last two meetings, both in 2015. Win or lose it will be interesting to see if this really was an act of desperation in order to find some kind of form heading into the US hard-court season or if Nadal can use this tournament to rekindle his once famed super human will to be victorious.
As summer slowly turns to Autumn, New York will be the setting, as the tennis world waits to see if Nadal is ready for sporting Valhalla or if he will rise like a phoenix from the ashes and regain his crown?
A 15th Grand Slam title may be out of reach this year but at the very least, Nadal must show that he belongs in the world’s elite top four and the US. Open will give us the clues to whether we will ever see Nadal at that level again.
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