Rafa Fading Away? Think Again!

If you have observed the media write-ups and social media ramblings, you may have sensed the underlying theme behind all the flashy headlines attempting to grab your attention on Dustin Brown’s victory over Rafael Nadal. For example, I give ten points to Sun Sport for creativity, for sticking the picture of Brown screaming, and his hair flying everywhere while the headline on top read “Rasta la vista, Rafa.”

Copyright: thesun.co.uk
Copyright: thesun.co.uk

Having said that, the larger question invading most write-ups and analyses center on Rafa, or more precisely, on the question of whether or not he will ever regain the form that made him an elite-level player over the last decade. The fact that this question pops up now deserves its own perspective.

Rafa lost to Novak Djokovic one month ago, on a court that he views as his temple. Let me modify that statement: he got dominated by the Serb in three straight sets, 7-5 6-3 6-1, eroding away as the match progressed. The invincible player was finally taken down from his throne, on the red dirt that he cherishes. Yet, only a few such as this article announced the nadir for Rafa, the way they announced it for Pete Sampras in 2001 or Roger Federer in 2013. Yes, it is true that the challenge imposed on Djokovic to show that he was capable of winning Roland Garros and defeating Nadal in Paris weighed heavier than any other topic. That being said, Rafa losing his iron hold on his favorite tournament to his biggest rival should have raised more uncertainty about his future than it did.

Now we find out that those concerns were patiently waiting in a for his possible defeat at Wimbledon. The fact that he lost to yet another outside-the-top-100 player early in the tournament only added fuel to the fire. Suddenly, speculations multiplied over the last 24 hours on whether or not he will ever be a top player again, or a top-5 player, or even if this may be his last year on the ATP Tour. Let’s be clear: the “less-than-a-day-old-yet-explosive” trend of declaring Rafa’s rapid downfall originate not in his loss to “Dreddy” Brown yesterday, but in the lingering effects of the one to Djokovic in Paris. Since 2010, Rafa has not advanced to the second week in Wimbledon and has suffered defeats to opponents outside the top 100 (Lukas Rosol, Nick Kyrgios, Steve Darcis) before the one against Brown yesterday. In contrast, Rafa losing to anyone on the Philippe Chatrier court would signify a career-changing moment for Rafa and that someone (ask Robin Soderling) and shatter the economy (ok, I exaggerate). The loss to Brown is the final push that opened wide the heavy door, while Djokovic was the one who removed its rusty hinges, unlocked it and left it ajar. Now the trend of calling for the gloom and doom of Rafa’s career is enjoying free entrance into the domain of drama. And the traffic to that entrance is flowing freely!

100_5835Rafa at his best: practicing hard…

Great champions have always made it their business to prove the pundits wrong, especially if the former believe that the latter is ready to put them in the coffin and send them to the graveyard (yes! I am using metaphors). Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi, Roger Federer, Serena Williams have all done it, as well as Stan Wawrinka (remember how long he was treated a one-tournament wonder after 2014 Australian Open?), Kim Clijsters and Jana Novotna, to a smaller scale. You can bet that Rafa will do everything he can, in order to prove that the latest surge in the call for the end of his career reflects bad judgment. If anything at all, the Big 4 have repeatedly shown that they can reach for higher grounds when most pundits believe the opposite.

In the middle of this “end-of-Rafa” mania, I dare to remind everyone that if Roland Garros started tomorrow, barring Djokovic, Nadal would be the favorite to win. I use “dare” because I did just that earlier on Tweeter and I got anything from “Nadal’s bubble has burst” to “err… no” from one gentleman and an overall disagreement (or reserved outlook) from a couple of others. I also got strange looks from two colleagues with whom I dared to discuss it (a third agreed with me, but he was Spanish, does that count?). The reasons given were how bad he has done in other tournaments on clay, how his forehand has regressed, and how the coach-player relationship with uncle Toni has run its course. While I was given the examples of Rafa’s losses on clay, how bad Djokovic dominated him in Paris, and his woes on other surfaces, when it came down to it, nobody could say “[fill in the name] would be the favorite against Rafa in a Roland Garros match.” While I agree that Wawrinka, Murray and a couple of others can be more competitive against Rafa today in Paris, I would question anyone’s objectivity who would call them “favorite” in that setting.

Nadal will get back to work, train hard, and find a way to remain longer among the elite players. On a larger scale, I believe that the call for Rafa’s end as an elite player is chaotically premature. Unless he walks away from the game (which is also included in the speculations circulating around, obviously some have somehow built an information streamline into the Rafa camp), I would warn anyone who banks on him to fade away. Can he get back to number 1? Unless Djokovic, Federer, and Murray have historical collapses in form, that seems unlikely in the near future. Can he get back into the top 5? Of course. Can he win another Major? Absolutely. The most likely place would once again be in Paris. There is almost a year before next year’s French Open (and shamefully, I am not even discussing the next U.S. Open and the Australian Open).

To claim that Rafa will somehow continue to compete and practice, yet not find his form during that period, or at least fail to get back to a level nearing his top form, seems hasty. Injuries can always halt improvement and end careers, and that remains a possibility with the Spaniard. However, the chances of Rafa getting back to elite level remain a higher possibility if he is not hampered by injuries. One loss (again, namely the one to Djokovic) does not take you from elite level to an ordinary player. If that was the case, top players would not still be on top after those types of losses (remember Serena Williams losing to Virginie Razzano in Roland Garros 2012? Sampras and Federer losing to Bastl in 2001 and Stakhovsky in 2013 respectively, both in Wimbledon?). Rafa losing to Brown? Been there done that in London before, and that never stopped him from remaining at the top. Losing to Djokovic at the French does not mean Rafa can no longer play on clay, or no longer win Roland Garros. The announcements and declarations ending Nadal’s career as a tennis player at the top level are not only ill-advised, but they are also hasty and impulsive. I expect cooler heads to prevail overtime.

Note: Follow Mertov’s Tennis Desk on Twitter for live updates throughout Wimbledon.

5 Replies to “Rafa Fading Away? Think Again!”

  1. Hi Mert,

    I did not see it directly but the Australian TV, Saturday am, gave some prominence to Tomic’s adverse remarks about Tennis Australia, in particular Craig Tiley. Were you there at the press conference? This has been a long festering sore, as you know.
    I watched the middle and the end of the Djokovic – Tomic match and though that Tomic behaved pretty gracefully. What else could he do? But it does appear that he is willing to play Davis Cup, which is good.

    1. Hi John,
      He said a load of things, and it was obvious that he has been holding a lot in..
      I think I better copy/paste his exact words from the press conference transcript below, you make sense of it..
      Take care and thanks for the feedback as usual..

      Q. Is your schedule unchanged? Still go to Newport?

      BERNARD TOMIC: There is some stuff I’d like to talk about. I was waiting for the right time. Now that Wimbledon is over for me, look, it’s very interesting what’s happened the last month.

      I always wanted to play Davis Cup. I’m going to. I’m going to go down there and play for the respect of Davis Cup, for the respect of the Australian public, for myself, and mainly for the respect of, you know, Lleyton and the team.

      You know, it’s interesting what’s happened the last week that Nick wasn’t going to play, as well. You know, I was not going to play. He said, If you don’t play, I don’t play.

      It was interesting now looking at this, we are in the quarterfinals of a stage, and, you know, we are sort of about to pull the pin. There is a lot of stuff that’s involved now that I’m very disappointed in which I’d like to talk to you guys about.

      Personally inside it’s been very difficult for me the last year or so in the Tennis Australia group. So it’s interesting how it’s changed. You know, obviously people and all, and Pat, obviously the problems, people think I’m at war with Pat Rafter. It’s not true.

      Pat is a nice guy. If the Australian public don’t know Pat, he’s a good actor, he’s well‑spoken, always prepared and knows what to say. He’s prepped by Tennis Australia to know what to say.

      He’s always ready to fire back questions that we answer to. You know, behind that I think very disappointed in Craig Tiley in Tennis Australia. He’s the reason the last few years, it’s been up and down for me. There has been no lack of support towards me. There has been no respect I think towards me.

      It’s been difficult, you know, been good player the last three, four years coming up, and, you know, people expecting a lot from you. All of a sudden, things started changing after I had that surgery. You know, I didn’t get one phone call from Tennis Australia, Can we help you, Bernard? Can we do this? Do you need something? You know, Can we give you something?

      Nothing. No phone calls were there.

      You know, I was on my own and felt really bad to such a high level as Tennis Australia, who supported me along the way very good.

      You know, don’t get me wrong. From what Pat said, a lot of money was invested in me, for sure. But whatever they invested in me, they got in return 10, 20 times more. That’s 100% certain.

      Now all of a sudden, they are neglecting me, for some reason. They are not supporting me, not respecting me. I give you an example. I will ask you a question, Darren. This year before Brisbane, 10 days before Brisbane, the rains started on the Gold Coast. I went to Royal Pines, which is an undercover court to practice. Got a call from Tennis Australia, You have to pay for your own courts.

      Now, I thought it was funny. You know, okay, okay, I paid the court, no problem.

      So rains started again. Maybe I go up to Pat Rafter Arena and practice there. Went up there, organized. 10 days before, nine days before. Practice and stuff. Guy coming to me, You have to pay the court and balls.

      Do you think that’s fair? Honestly, Darren?

      Q. Probably not. Certainly not at Pat Rafter Arena.

      BERNARD TOMIC: Certainly not. That’s where things started changing. I couldn’t believe it. I took the receipt. Whose information was it through Tennis Australia? Pat and Craig.

      What’s going on? Where is the support? How can you do this?

      It’s not about the money. It’s about the respect. It’s like…

      Meanwhile, we are buying these players overseas, doing this, doing that, buying players instead of supporting us, junior players, giving them something, or stuff like me, I have to pay for a court? In Australia, how is that possible? You understand.

      Now, why I have to play Davis Cup for these people and administration down there, Tiley and these guys. Ever since he came in, he knows how he got in. In a sneaky way he got his position and only he knows himself how he got this position. Everything started changing and stuff.

      No one is mentioning him. He’s doing a lot of stuff. They are holding so much money down there, and doing what they want, increasing their salary, this, that, giving Pat a salary, it’s like saying, Here, Pat, here’s a salary. He doesn’t know what he’s doing. They are giving him a budget. He doesn’t know what he’s doing.

      What’s his job? Deal with it, Pat. You’re the mask. He’s a mask for these guys, Craig and Steve. They don’t want to deal with this. They give it to Pat. You do the work. You take care of this and that. He doesn’t know what he’s doing.

      It’s crazy. Meanwhile, he’s charging me for balls. Charging me for balls and court at his own arena nine days before.

      What’s he doing? I don’t understand. Where is the support? Where is the respect, you know? Why I have to play for them, for these guys, these sort of people? The respect and the attitude, they are starting…

      I will play, I will play. I will go down. I have the respect for Lleyton. The respect for the legends, Tony Roche, Laver. Not for Tiley, not for these guys. I don’t think what they are doing, it’s not good at all.

      Q. If Nick said he was going to play, would you have gone to Newport instead?

      BERNARD TOMIC: I obviously had that wild card there. I wasn’t sure really. It was tough times, you know. Obviously I did get that wild card. I’m going to say no to that. I’m going to go down there because I believe we can win. I believe we can get into that semifinal spot, potentially have a chance of making the final of Davis Cup.

      But, you know, I love Davis Cup. I respect it from my heart. My record is 14 and 2 or 15 and 2. Probably a top two or three records the last three or four few years. I enjoy Davis Cup. I enjoy it so much.

      Why? I don’t understand. Like why now has it changed? It’s really these guys in Tennis Australia, someone needs to go investigate them, what they are doing and where that money is going. It’s horrible.

      Where is the support towards me and my family? You know, what I mean? How much money they have made on me or this and that the last three or four years. You have to pay for the court.

      Where is the respect? Hello? It’s changed, guys. It’s changing. People need to start investigating these guys down there.

  2. Thanks Mert, that was a lot more than in the TV clip. It won’t win him any friends.

    That said, I think it essential that in any organization there should be some rotation in corporate governance at the top in order to maintain transparency and accountability. Without it, there is eventually trouble.

  3. It’s a quiet day so I went and looked and the Australian papers cover this at some length. General community opinion seems to be that Tomic went too far and people are not sorry to see him bumped from the Davis Cup team. Although Tennis Australia might be pretty bad, opinion says, it is not as bad as the other national sports organizations (e.g. football, horse racing).

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