Category Archives: Rafael Nadal

AUSTRALIAN OPEN: Rafael Nadal not just Rusty. Body Broken

It takes a recklessness to be Nadal. It’s not only about running with abandon, but also about throwing everything you have with every single body part into every single motion. It is to push limits, to create energy and adrenaline so powerful that even people watching can feel it. To be Nadal is not to float gracefully like Roger Federer, but to storm the court like no one before.

And all of that is to point out one thing: The guy who lost to Tomas Berdych 6-2, 6-0, 7-6 (7-5) Tuesday in the Australian Open quarterfinals? That wasn’t Nadal.

Rafael Nadal warned us. He said he wasn’t ready to win this tournament, that he was rusty from his time away because of injuries. He said Tuesday that reaching the quarters was a good step. But are we supposed to believe his words — and, those of ESPN’s analysts who think he just needs practice — or our own eyes? Because what I saw was this:

Nadal’s body is broken. It’s amazing he lasted this long, to 28. How long would your car last going pedal to the metal all the time?

 

“I am feeling OK,” he told reporters. “Just was not my day. I didn’t play with the right intensity, with the right rhythm. And the opponent played better than me.”

But you were rubbing your hamstrings. And you took some sort of medicine during the third set.

“Yeah, happened nothing,” he said. “I am feeling well. That’s it.”

Truth: Nadal hates it that people think he blames injury for losses. More truth: Injury was the reason for this loss.

Well, actually I don’t think it was injury, though that’s how Darren Cahill portrayed it. Maybe he’s right. I hope he’s right. But I suspect this is just Nadal’s normal state now. He has put his body through torture for so long.

But the problem against Berdych wasn’t rust or timing. Nadal can’t change directions on a dime — as

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AUSTRALIAN OPEN: Tennis has Smyczek’s Moment of Sportsmanship, NFL has Deflategate. Which One Do We Really Respect?

Tim Smyczek

Four hours into the fight Wednesday, Tim Smyczek, Packers fan from Milwaukee, was sticking with Rafael Nadal, greatest player of all time, at the Australian Open. It was one of those moments when you reach heights that. . .”He was sick and not playing well,” Smyczek said, trying to ruin the story.

Whatever. Nadal led 6-5, 30-love, fifth set. He tossed to serve and someone in the crowd screamed. It distracted him and he missed wildly. And then what? Here’s what: Smyczek secretly took the ball, stuffed it in his pocket, reached down and popped a hole in the seam with his fingernail. The ball turned to mush, which meant that it wouldn’t bounce much, negating Nadal’s wicked topspin.

Smygate! The American way! No wait. That’s not what happened. Smyczek didn’t Belichick the ball at all. What really happened was this: He told the chair umpire to let Nadal hit his first serve again. A do-over was not required under the rules. Nadal then served again and won the point. A few minutes later, Nadal won 6-2, 3-6, 6-7 (7-2), 6-3, 7-5.

Sportmanship lives. Smyczek did it at risk to his career moment. It was the right thing, wasn’t it? Because it stands in such stark contrast to the big story in sports today: the New England Patriots deflating 11 of the 12 footballs used in the AFC title game, theoretically to fit better into the small hands of Patriots quarterback Tom Brady.

“What he did at the end of the fifth was just amazing,” Nadal said afterward, talking about Smyczek, not New England coach Bill Belichick. “Very few players can do that after four hours. . .He’s a great example, what he did today.”

This is about who we are and whether what we respect and believe in

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WIMBLEDON: Novak Djokovic Beats Roger Federer, Wins Title, Ends Career, Um, Crisis?

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When Novak Djokovic was younger and still on the outskirts of greatness, he was always known for his melodrama. It was one overplayed ailment after another. And the crowd in New York booed him, and Andy Roddick apparently punched him, or close. And in Australia, where he ran to the bathroom during a match and his opponent, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga was asked when he noticed something was wrong with Djokovic. Tsonga replied, “Five years ago.”

Times have changed, and respect has grown, but I’m having difficulty accepting the new narrative that Djokovic’ career was in some sort of crisis. He is 27, has reached the heights of his profession that few have reached. He has done it by winning his fair share against Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, possibly the two greatest players of all time. He has made an insane amount of money, won an insane amount of matches, had an insane amount of fun. And he’s about to get married and become a father.

That ain’t a crisis. But Djokovic beat Federer Sunday to win Wimbledon in a classic, 6-7 (9-7), 6-4, 7-6 (7-4), 5-7, 6-4. And when it was over, Djokovic said this:

“At this time in my career, for this Grand Slam trophy to arrive is crucial, especially after losing several Grand Slam finals in a row. I started doubting, of course, a little bit. I needed this win a lot.”

Djokovic did not NEED this win. Not for his legacy, which was already set for greatness, and not for the confidence to win more majors. He was always going to win more. This match is the defining moment of Djokovic’ career, but not because it pulled him out of some imaginary hole. It is because he finally beat Federer the Great in an epic Wimbledon final.

It was the guy he beat, the way he kept getting back up and the place he did it. All of that combined.

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To be honest, the narrative on Federer is wrong, too. He’s 32, and people saw this as his last, best chance to win another major.

Wrong. Federer has finally found confidence now that he finally — FINALLY — switched to a modern racquet that gives him more power and allows him to fend off those who are crushing the ball at him. He is going to have to get more comfortable hitting forehands with it, but the point is that he has plenty more runs at majors in him now.

God knows how many majors Federer threw away by stubbornly sticking with that ancient, outdated stick.

The thing is, Federer looked more confident these past two weeks than he has in a few years. I doubt he feels this was his last chance. Djokovic’ brain was telling him that he was in crisis.

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WIMBLEDON: Rafael Nadal Losing to Nick Kyrgios not as Shocking as it Looks. Losing to Roger Federer Would be the Shock

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Nick Kyrgios is just 19 years old. He isn’t ranked in the top 140. As of a week ago, he’d won just one match this year above tennis’ minor leagues. He didn’t earn his way into Wimbledon, but instead got in with a freebie, a wildcard.

And of course, the No. 1 player hadn’t lost in a major to anyone outside the top 100 in 22 years. So people are seeing Rafael Nadal’s 7-6(7-5), 5-7, 7-6 (7-5), 6-3 loss to Kyrgios Tuesday as a historic upset. But here’s the truth: If you’re stunned that that kid was able to beat Nadal, then you just haven’t been paying attention.

The much more stunning thing would be if Roger Federer beat Nadal.

“I was not able to read his serve during the whole match,” Nadal said. “At the end on grass, the resume is that. I was not able to read his serve.”

Luckily, thanks to my inner-Uncle Toni, I’m here with the checklist of Nadal’s problems. Some are fixable, some have to be worked around. The list includes Nadal’s knees, his grips, his positioning and his brain.

Other than that, he’s still good to go.

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AUSTRALIAN OPEN: From Valedictorians to Class Clowns, Here are Grades for the Year’s First Major

Maria Sharapova icing down during a match

Maria Sharapova icing down during a match

Stan Wawrinka, next banner up

Stan Wawrinka, next banner up

Genie Bouchard. Next.

Genie Bouchard. Next.

We got an inspirational new champion, a re-invented former champion, a few possible future champions and then, well, failure and theater of the absurd. Really, Australian Open officials? It’s OK to have players out there in 110 degree heat because people used to chase antelope in Africa?

WHAT?

So here are the final grades for the Australian Open, of valedictorians, teacher’s pets, class clowns and everything in between.

VALEDICTORIANS

LI NA: In a sport in need of mainstream attention, Li not only gives tennis something every sport dreams of – something to market to the massive population and economy of China – but also a post-championship match victory speech that goes viral. As a result, Li might be the most important player in the women’s game today, maybe even more than Serena Williams. Li was able to win the Australian Open without beating a top player, but that’s not her fault. Eight months ago, with her results failing and the Chinese media ripping her, Li nearly retired. Her work with new coach Carlos Rodriguez has helped the sport big time. Grade: A+

STAN WAWRINKA: Wawrinka’s championship was even more impressive than Li Na’s, considering the tougher competition he had to beat. He spent the past few years thinking he was never going to be able to break through the Big Four in men’s tennis, but finding honor in getting up after every defeat to keep fighting anyway. And then he took down Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal. You can’t win two major tennis matches by fluke. He earned this. Grade: A+

TEACHER’S PETS

ANA IVANOVIC: The game has just been waiting for her to get her nerve back. And she came out firing again. She beat Serena Williams, not to mention Sam Stosur, and showed that she’s perfectly capable of being a top 10 player again and a threat to win another major. . .if she keeps believing. Grade A-

ROGER FEDERER: New racquet, new coach (Stefan Edberg), new, aggressive gameplan. Same results? Federer lost to Rafael Nadal again. Well, that is a completely unfair analysis. Federer is finally doing all the right things. It is the only way he’s going to win another major, and he finally seems to realize that. It’s not just that he’s coming to the net, but that he’s trying to step into the ball and attack. Sure, he waffled on it against Nadal. This is all new to Fed. It was a GREAT first step. I was starting to watch him and wonder who he’d lose to next while slicing and dinking. Now, I can’t wait to see him. He still can’t beat Nadal, but he now is a threat to win another major or two. He still has game. He even has a legit shot at the French Open. Grade: A

DOMINIKA CIBULKOVA: Hard to know if Cibulkova just changed her career, but remember this: She came into the Australian Open as a known choker. She left with wins over No. 3 Maria Sharapova, No. 6 Aga Radwanska and No. 11 Simona Halep before reaching the final. Forgive her for some nerves early in her first major final. That happens. The thing about women’s tennis is that there are only a couple of superstars. The women’s players are sort of cookie-cutter, and if someone with talent and nerves of steel comes along, then it’s going to take a top player playing well to beat her. Hope is that this won’t be Cibulkova’s Melanie Oudin-moment, and that she’ll have found her nerve for the long run. Grade: A+

ACED THE CLASS, FLUNKED THE FINAL

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Aga Radwanska plays brilliantly, wins

Aga Radwanska plays stupidly, loses

Aga Radwanska plays stupidly, loses

AGA RADWANSKA: She might have played the match of the tournament in beating Victoria Azarenka. She was everywhere on the court, with just enough power. Azarenka was flustered and confused. And the media hailed Radwanska as a genius for that match. But in her semifinal match against Dominika Cibulkova, Radwanska played as if she had had a lobotomy. I’m not even sure Radwanska tried. When things weren’t working, she kept doing them. There was no hint of strategy. This is the problem with the almost-greats. You see incredible things, and then you are reminded why they don’t reach the mountaintop (see Tomas Berdych). Same thing happened with Radwanska at Wimbledon. So what’s the grade? Well, I think she’s good enough to win a major, and marketable enough to be a star. And that semifinal match was so bad, I can barely remember the Azarenka match. Grade: F.

TOMAS BERDYCH: He reached the semifinals, and then smiled and credited his team when he was told that he had become the only current player outside the Big Four to reach the semis of all four majors. Hey Tomas, that’s not really a compliment. Another way of putting it: You are the only player on tour to reach the semis of all four majors, but never win one. Berdych is adding topspin to his forehand, which is being credited for his recent improved play. I don’t know about that. That flat forehand was the reason he was winning matches. The way he fell apart briefly against David Ferrer in the quarters was shocking. Lost his nerve at moments against Stan Wawrinka in the semis, too, but in hindsight, it’s hard to mark him down too far for losing to the champ. One more thing: there was nothing wrong with Berdych’s much-criticized prison-cell shirts, other than his team was wearing them, too. Grade: B

DAVID FERRER: When he lost to Berdych in the quarters in what I’m calling the Bridesmaid Bowl, he lost his unofficial title as best player never to win a major. He pushed the line judge, too, but at least he isn’t hitting balls into the stands at crying babies anymore. Still fighting hard. Still stuck in the land of almost. Maybe Wawrinka’s win will show him what’s possible. Grade: C

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AUSTRALIAN OPEN: Reality check for Federer. Crushed by Nadal, but Oz was Great Start to Reinventing Self

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Reality is reality and facts are facts. But the reality and facts of Rafael Nadal’s easy win over Roger Federer Friday in the Australian Open semifinal are based solely on what you expected.

What I mean is this: If people expected Federer to beat Nadal, then they really haven’t been paying attention lately. He was never going to win this match. Cold reality is that Nadal is far better now than Federer.

But the fact is this: These past two weeks have been a massive success for the reality of Roger Federer.

Jack Nicklaus used to say that he never wanted to be a ceremonial golfer, that he was there to win. Without changes, Federer was going to be just for show by the end of this year. He might not have been in the top 20.

Instead, at 32, he has already not only taken the first steps, but also placed himself back in position to win majors again.

Please read the rest of the column here

 


WIMBLEDON: Strange Cats-and-Dogs Cultural Truth About Women and Men on Tour

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REPORTING FROM THE ALL ENGLAND CLUB IN WIMBLEDON

LONDON

It was 7-6 in the tiebreaker Sunday at Wimbledon, and Novak Djokovic was about to lose. “Moment of Truth,’’ he yelled, trying to pressure and intimidate the, well, the kid on the other side of the net.

It was the middle Sunday at Wimbledon, the day off. The Bryan brothers got off their practice court at the same time Juan Martin del Potro got off his, and they took pictures together. The Bryan Bros. posted one on their Twitter account.

Djokovic had somehow run into a highly ranked junior boy, and they practiced together for a few minutes, then played a tiebreaker. Djokovic was screaming at him, trash-talking him. Still, the kid won, and Djokovic dropped and gave five pushups.

This all comes together as just another example of a strange cultural truth in tennis that has become more and more evident the past two weeks: For some reason, the women on tour don’t seem to get along with each other, and the men do.

This Wimbledon started with a storyline about the bickering between Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova. Their dislike of each other was never exactly a secret, but it had never been this open before. Serena took shots, presumably at Sharapova, in an article in Rolling Stone magazine, and Sharapova shot back that if Serena wants to talk about personal things, she should stick to the fact that she’s a homewrecker.

It just seemed like a fun-to-watch personal thing. But more and more, things anecdotally keep popping up to show that it’s bigger than that.

“I think so,’’ John Isner told me early last week with a laugh that seemed to say, `That’s the understatement of the year.’ The women, you don’t even see them practice together. It’s weird.’’

By contrast, Isner said that on Monday, he and Roger Federer happened to be in the locker room at the same time.

“We were in the showers, and started talking WWE (professional wrestling),’’ Isner said. “I kid you not.’’

Please read the rest of the column here 


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