Not many players have achieved what Rafael Nadal has. Sixteen years back Nadal himself wouldn’t have thought that one day he will be in the race of being The Greatest of All Time (GOAT).
But ‘nothing gold can stay’. Nadal’s performance in the past two years is a poignant reminder of the passing of time. The 14 time Grand Slam champion did not win a single Grand Slam in 2014 for the first time in 10 years. The King of Clay was dethroned by his nemesis Novak Djokovic at the French Open last year where the Spaniard went out in straight sets, a very unlikely result compared to his dominance on the surface for past 10 years. He was forced to withdraw this year due to left wrist injury.
Nadal did not reach the semi-finals of any Grand Slams either, tumbling at quarter finals stage in Australian Open and the French, and incurring shocking 2nd round and 3rd round exits at Wimbledon and U.S. Open respectively in 2015. Whereas, in 2016 he was ousted in the first round by compatriot Fernando Verdasco at the Australian Open and withdrew from French Open and Wimbledon. He was also defeated by Frenchman Lucas Pouille in 5 sets at the US Open. This meant that 2016 became the first year since 2004 in which Nadal failed to reach a Grand Slam quarter-final.
But during the Rio Olympics, Nadal achieved 800 career wins with his quarter-final victory over Thomaz Bellucci. Also, he along with Spanish countryman Marc Lopez won the gold medal in men’s doubles event beating Romania’s Florin Mergea and Horia Tecau. This makes Nadal only the second man in the open era to have won gold medals in both singles and doubles. Nadal also advanced to the bronze medal match in the men’s singles but was defeated by Japan’s Kei Nishikori.
He also has 806-174 career win loss record this season, securing a winning percentage far below 82.84 career win percentage. Yes, this might seem like a plain performance but according to this great champion’s standards, this is a huge drop from his top form.
The most astonishing fact however is his performance against top 10 players. A career 140-76 record tells a very different story from a 4-5 record previous year this year.
All these facts urge us towards one conclusion, that Nadal’s time at the top has ended. That his chances of winning another Grand Slam are a bit iffy. But it just feels wrong when looked at Nadal’s never die spirit.
The Spaniard, 30, is known for his attitude; for his endurance; for his mental ability. The Spaniard is known for his comebacks.
Even in the worst season of his career in 2015, he managed to grab 4 titles- 3 singles and 1 doubles- last year reflecting that he can still come back. Rafael Nadal is currently the World Number 6.
As a matter of fact, Nadal’s year end performances last year significantly improved. He made it to the finals of the China Open. In Shanghai Open, he defeated Stan Wawrinka en route to the semi-finals in 2015.
Though Nadal had to face a major setback in 2016 due to the repetitive injuries, but the Olympics were a good sign that if fully fit, he can go the distance. The Swiss indoors, the Paris masters and the ATP World Tour Finals are the major tournaments at the end of the year which Nadal will miss out on this year.
And confidence is all Rafa needs at this point in his career. Nadal is one of the hardest working players on tour, so a good work out in off-season after a strong start to 2017 can set him up for Grand Slams next year. With such a remarkable record at Grand Slams, I think it is naive to count him out.
As it is said great champions are never out of any match. I believe Nadal will turn the tide and win at least one more Grand Slam.
Dont forget, Nadal is the youngest player in Open era to complete a career Grand Slam.