By: Princy James We all like to believe in the perpetuity of superheroes, the ones who can be bent but never broken, for their valiance compensates for our own existential woes. To a great extend, sporting legends serve the purpose of myths, rendering meaning and inspiration to the humanity.
Rafael Nadal is such a myth; his image is that of a fighter who leaves no stone unturned to reach his goal. He had been serving justice to that popular perception, staying at the top of his game for a decade, despite having faced a fair share of challenges.
And then, he slipped, but the world wasn't ready to accept his fall. Perhaps we should leave him alone, instead of dissecting the many causes that could have lead to another first round exit at a Major-- the second time in his 14-year-old career.
If you look at the big picture, this defeat is just a speck on an almost clean sheet. The problem is, that speck takes a bigger dimension against the backdrop of that illustrious career of his; for that reason alone, Nadal's losses will garner undue attention.
Nadal had to say this at the US Open press conference last year: "Seems like I am No. 200 in every press conference. I am not so bad. After I arrive here with the victory, I come back to the locker room saying how bad I am.
Every day." Those words carry weight. It isn't easy to give explanations, given that he hasn't trodden the loser's path very often in his career. When his fall happened, it came like an avalanche, and oft-repeated suggestions began resonating throughout.
"Is it time for some fresh blood in the Nadal camp?", wondered John McEnroe, when he saw the two-time champion and five-time finalist reduced to the status of an amateur against a second-tier player like Dustin Brown at Wimbledon last year.
McEnroe was saying out loud what most of us have been thinking. Such thoughts gain pertinence in the backdrop of Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer reshuffling their respective coaching teams, and reaping benefits in doing so.
Nadal then reiterated that there wouldn't be any change in his team, owning up instead of passing the buck, and showing no qualms in admitting to lack of confidence, making it clear to the world that, after all, he is human.
The 2015 season was the darkest period of Nadal's career, which he finished without a single Grand Slam or a Masters 1000 title, not to mention tasting defeats from players against whom he had a clean record erstwhile.
But Nadal didn't sound despondent all through; he was visibly upset with his forehand at the Barcelona Open, where he suffered a third round loss against Fabio Fognini; so was the case at Miami Masters as well. But he was happy with his performance in Madrid Masters, albeit his loss to Andy Murray in the finals.
At Roland Garros, the picture wasn't really different -- the optimist in Nadal wanted to look back and reflect on his 9 titles there instead of focussing on that loss against Djokovic in the quarterfinals -- again, a somewhat expected loss.
His shoddy performances at Wimbledon and the US Open made his rank slip further down, and his presence at the ATP World Tour Finals seemed unlikely. With the burden of expectations slightly off his shoulders, Nadal could pull off an impressive performance at the China Open and Swiss Indoors, reaching the finals there, consequently securing his place at the World Tour Finals, where he made it to the last four.
In 2016, once again, all eyes were on Nadal as the first Slam of the season kicked off, but he disappointed again, not being unable to cash in on the opportunities he had against Fernando Verdasco. Nadal couldn't put pressure on Verdasco during the crucial moments, but the latter succeeded in doing the same, hitting powerful winners from all angles.In Nadal's words, his rival "hit all the shots bombs" in the fourth set tiebreaker.
In the post-match press conference, Nadal expressed disappointment over his forehand losing its edge; the most crucial weapon in his arsenal has become obsolete lately. At 29, Nadal still has some more years left, and it would be good to see him get back to his winning habits again.
Just because Federer bounced back from his slump in a relatively shorter period, we shouldn't expect the same from Nadal. Maybe we should take off that perfect image of a resilient Nadal of yesteryears from our minds and see him as what he is now -- someone vulnerable, yet no less short of a warrior.
More than anyone else out there, he wants to get back to where he belonged. Till then, we should put our faith in him, and give him time.