Monday, June 24, 2013

Making Sense of Nadal's Early Wimbledon Exit

(June 24, 2013)--On Monday at Wimbledon, Rafael Nadal lost in the first round of a Grand Slam for the first time in his career (35 Slams, if you're curious), and now it's time to ponder: Where did it all go wrong? What does it all mean? For Roger Federer and Andy Murray, who both were lumped into a very difficult half of the draw with Nadal, it means a lot. But in the big picture for Nadal, this devastating loss might end up being nothing but another speed bump.

In short: it's nothing to panic about.

Steve Darcis' 7-6(4), 7-6(8), 6-4 victory over Nadal was a shocking upset in some ways, but in other ways, given what Nadal had to put himself through to achieve his record-shattering victory in Paris, it's not all that surprising. Simply put, Nadal was temporarily spent at Wimbledon, and he played like it. His tank was on E, red light and all, and he'd been driving across Europe for days. After a long, glorious slog through Latin America and Europe, something had to give, and it gave today. Not even the fumes of his legendary greatness could save him.

Does it make the loss sting any less for Nadal? Certainly not.

After riding a wave of momentum that enabled him to long-board through Paris, Nadal seemed to have everything under control. So much so that it make perfect sense to consider Nadal a serious contender to win his third French-Wimbledon double, which would have tied him with Bjorn Borg and made him one of only two players to have accomplished the feat three times in the Open Era.

It was one of the many compelling story lines on the mens' side, now it's a dead dream, kicked to the curb like yesterday's tandoori.

And we are left with the poignant realization: Control is a fleeting thing when it comes to Nadal. Quite often these days, he's at the mercy of his health, and that scenario reared its ugly head today.

But, alas, such is life. The knees giveth and the knees taketh away. Even the greats have their holes, and Rafa, a man who plays a brand of tennis that is clearly at odds with his brand of knees, clearly has his, and at times like this those holes stand agape, opening wide for all the world to see.

But before we take this as a sign of the end of Rafa, let's take a moment to consider what he was up against at Wimbledon. After redlining his body since his return to the court in February, Rafa simply wasn't ready to take on the challenge of Wimbledon so soon. With a ridiculously short (and thankfully, soon to be expanded) two-week break between the French Open and Wimbledon, it left Nadal no time to even step on the grass, let alone ramp his game up in true Nadal style, for Wimbledon.

Anybody who knows Nadal, knows that preparation is his foundation. He's gotten more adept over the course of his career at getting up to cruising speed more quickly, but after such a whirlwind scenario, in which Nadal won 43 of 45 matches and seven titles in six vamos-filled months, it just wasn't possible.

Let's face it: After skipping Halle, Nadal was basically coming to Wimbledon on a wing and a prayer. With no practice on the trickiest, most slippery surface in tennis, Nadal was bound to be tentative, even if he was completely fit. And so, today's result isn't all that surprising, much in the same way his loss to Horacio Zeballos in Vina del Mar wasn't that surprising either. Nadal simply lacked the necessary time to prepare.

Does his loss at Wimbledon mean that Nadal is a one-trick pony, that he can't—or won't—play up to snuff on anything but clay for the foreseeable future? I don't think so. The man has won Grand Slams (and convincingly) on every surface, and if he chooses to prepare for the grass the way he prepared for the clay, he can and will win Wimbledon again.

Think about it. Nadal ended Roger Federer's reign of five consecutive Wimbledon titles in 2008. Why? Because he made it his vision quest. He lived it. He dreamed it. He did it.

This year at Wimbledon, Nadal's vision quest was still in the rearview mirror, somewhere near the Champs-Élysées. He had given everything to winning an 8th French Open, and on Monday he paid a dear price for that.

Was it worth it? You bet.

Will he be back with a vengeance in the not-too-distant future? You bet.

So let's not hang our heads in despair for Nadal. Consistency has never been his calling card like it has been for Roger Federer. Nadal is more of a shooting star.

He may have crashed and burned today, but he's bound to light up the sky again real soon.

Bank on it.


  1. Awesome two cents!!! This has really helped, I'm a die hard in love Rafa fan and was heartbroken for him today. The only thing I would add is maybe if he had skipped the exhibition against Kei and just stuck to practicing his knee may have held up a little longer... just hope they are able to get him healthy again even if he refuses to talk about the knee!

  2. Thank you for this -- it took the sting out of Rafa's R1 exit a little bit. Still heartbroken over the loss, but now I can at least look forward to better times ahead. Vamos Rafa!

  3. Love your article! It surely lifted Rafa fans spirit. Hoping he will be fine, health wise.Vamos Rafa!

  4. I hope nadal gets back soon n give his die hard fans the reason to watch tennis

  5. thanks for this - i needed a pick up after that loss!
    I like, very much, the expressions: "The knees giveth, the knees taketh away". In my recollection (selective) ,rafa has often lost early when playing Queens, and has had to work hard adapting to competitive level tennis on grass in the early rounds in wimbledon.


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