Wondering About Rafa
March 27, 2012 -- Rob Koening of Tennis Channel posed a question, 'Who do you think would retire first, Roger or Rafa?', as he called the match between Rafael Nadal and Kei Nishikori in Miami. His partner in the booth wanted more time to think about an answer. But why was such an odd question even posed?
News broke today that Nadal had resigned from the ATP Player Council as its vice president after two years. Generally Nadal said he didn't have enough time.
"I really don't know how to do things without put[ting in] my 100 percent," Nadal said, as reported by Greg Garber on ESPN.com "I put all my energy there. So last year at the end of the season, was a lot of things there. Finally, I believe, I put too much energy there."
Rafa wanted a 2-year ranking system, which, according to Garber, would make it easier for top players to withdraw from events due to injuries. Nadal, plus others on the council, wanted more and better player representation at the larger tournaments -- that's more money. This initially hit the street at the U. S. Open after rain delays, cracked courts, and poor scheduling. The combination created a perfect storm, which Nadal navigated. Finally, Nadal wanted the tournament calendar trimmed.
But these issues were not resolved to his liking, leaving him thwarted in his attempts to contribute to the game he loves.
"So there is always troubles there," he said, again from Garber. "I understand the trouble from the other part, from tournaments, but I don't understand the trouble from our part, from our reps, no?"
Rafael Nadal is not a man to sit on the job. If things don't move, he does. Tim Henman and Ivan Ljubicic also voiced frustration over the same issues when they left their tenure with the ATP Player Council.
With that monkey off his back will Nadal swing more freely? Will he beat Novak Djokovic? Will he win a tournament?
He hasn't won a singles title in ten months. He did, though, win the men's doubles titles in Indian Wells last week, alongside his friend and partner Mark Lopez.
Nadal defeated Nishikori today and moved on to the quarterfinals, but his game wasn't on. He looked tortured and called the trainer for his left knee, which he says has been problematic since Indian Wells. He also complained about his left hand. The first two games of the match took almost thirty minutes. And, Nadal was broken when he served for the match. Yes, Nishikori's ball did clip the net-cord and you could say he was lucky, but stats are stats. Nadal then broke to win 63 64, in over two hours.
Nadal's game is monstrous and physical, and his knees walk a tightrope because of it. No one would say that he glides around a tennis court, as Federer is described. Yet, Nadal anticipates brilliantly and his speed is superior. He can reverse direction. He runs down every ball. The pounding is brutal.
Nadal's face always tells a story. He's gritty during matches. He's the warrior. But over the last season, when Djokovic began edging him out, Nadal became edgy. And it happened off court.
Before the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells a discussion broke out about the length of time players took between points. The rule states you have 20 seconds, but every tennis fan around the globe knows Nadal abuses it. He's not alone, either. Then Federer piped up, saying he'd like to see the rule enforced which irked Nadal. The idea of a court clock was met with disdain. The chatter disrupted the friendly image that had surrounded these two 'friends.'
At one point in Nadal's match today, they broadcast length of time between points. Nadal had averaged 33 seconds, and Nishikori 28 seconds. Chair umpires tend to look at the time in relation to the match, the weather, and the occasion. The Miami heat plus the extended rallies -- one at 28 shots -- must have influenced decisions from the chair.
The world remembers a Nadal when he first came on the scene. The sleeveless tank, pirate pants, and shoulder length hair. His buggy whip forehand shook up the pros, but sent shivers through juniors. It was so cool. And Nadal's left arm was pinup material.
Nadal challenged and conquered Roger Federer time after time on red clay and finally on grass in 2008, swiping the royal crown from the Suisse. Finally, he surpassed Roger in the rankings and took over number one.
Then Novak Djokovic found himself after winning the Davis Cup with his Serbian team. His outlook transformed into one made of steel, as did his game. He took down Nadal at every corner, stunning the world with his match record.
Nadal has been hurt by this turn of events. He doesn't like to lose and has not figured out how to defeat Novak, although he came awfully close in Melbourne and was happy about his play there, too.
But you can bet that the Spaniard would like nothing better than to play Djokovic in the final at Miami, just like last year. But this Sunday Rafa would like to be the one hoisting the trophy. Now that would bring a big smile to Rafa's face.
Earlier Columns from this Event:
March 26, 2012 Sony Ericsson Open: Clearly Likely
March 25, 2012 Sony Ericsson Open: Consistency
March 24, 2012 Sony Ericsson Open: Greatest of All Time Downs Young American Harrison
March 23, 2012 Sony Ericsson Open: Those We Don't Talk About, Much
March 22, 2012 Sony Ericsson Open: Venus Is Back
March 21, 2012 Sony Ericsson Open: Fernando Gonzalez Bids Farewell