Beyond the US Open: The many struggles of Rafael Nadal

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Beyond the US Open: The many struggles of Rafael Nadal

World number 1 and 17-time Grand Slam champion Rafael Nadal has won 80 ATP titles in his glorious career but only four have come after the US Open, as he usually struggles to keep the form and strength for the last part of the season.

The Spaniard injured his right knee during the US Open and he was forced to retire in the second set of the semi-final clash against Juan Martin del Potro, with the rest of the season pretty much in doubt. Nadal is only 1000 points ahead of Novak Djokovic in the ATP Race but he will not be able to add more points to his tally during the Chinese swing, making a decision to skip Beijing and Shanghai in order to make a full recovery before Paris and ATP Finals where he will try to battle with Novak for the year-end number 1 spot.

Over the course of the last 15 years, Rafa had numerous injuries that plagued his seasons and many of those have come after the last Grand Slam of the season in New York, with his body unable to deal with the further efforts on hard courts after what had already been tough and challenging seasons. In the previous 14 seasons (no matches after Wimbledon in 2012), Nadal had a 122-47 score after the US Open which is far behind his overall performance on the Tour, especially when we know that he materialized those wins into just four ATP titles.

Rafa was never a fan of an indoor tennis and he was vulnerable against any decent attacker who could take the rhythm away from him and forced him to play from awkward positions and out from the comfort zone. He had some good results, though, but we can't compare them with the way he usually performs until the US Open.

Back in 2003, Rafa was by far the best youngster in the world but he had to shut down his engines after the US Open, finishing the season with four indoor events and winning just one match at St. Jean De Luz Challenger. Nadal won his first ATP title in Sopot just before the US Open in 2004 but he won just four matches after New York, including two on clay (one in the Davis Cup final against Roddick) and that all changed in 2005, his best post-US Open season so far.

The 19-year-old had become a Grand Slam champion and world number 2 that season and he stayed on a high level after losing in the third round of the US Open to James Blake, winning the title in Beijing, two Davis Cup matches against Italy and Masters 1000 event in Madrid, his first and so far the only indoor hard title! Rafa had to overcome a stern test from Ivan Ljubicic in three hours and 53 minutes thriller, coming from two sets to love down to celebrate in front of the home fans, finishing his season there and skipping Masters Cup due to a left foot injury.

Nadal made his Masters Cup debut in 2006, hitting an early exit in Stockholm and Madrid but reaching the semi-final in Shanghai where he lost to Roger Federer in straight sets. There were only three tournaments in Nadal's schedule after the US Open in 2007 and he lost to David Nalbandian in Madrid and Paris before another semi-final exit at Masters Cup to Roger.

A year later, he led Spain in the Davis Cup against the USA and he lost in the semi-final of Madrid after a great battle with Gilles Simon. A tendinitis in right knee forced him to retire in the quarter-final of Paris against Davydenko and he had to skip Masters Cup for the second time in his young career.

Rafa bounced back in 2009, reaching the semi-final in Beijing and Paris and also in the final of Shanghai to Davydenko. He scored two wins against the Czechs in the Davis Cup final but only after losing all three matches at the ATP Finals in London against Soderling, Davydenko and Djokovic.

After a terrible loss to Guillermo Garcia-Lopez in the semi-final of Bangkok 2010, Nadal won the title in Tokyo after saving match points against Troicki in the semis (only his third after the US Open) before an early exit in Shanghai that gave him time to prepare for the ATP Finals as he decided to skip Paris Masters due to a tendinitis in his left shoulder.

In London, Rafa won all four matches to reach the final, his first at this event, losing to his greatest rival Roger Federer in three sets and missing a chance to add this great tournament to his collection that already included all four Majors.

Following two Davis Cup wins over France in the Davis Cup in 2011, Rafa was in the final of Tokyo for the second straight year and this time he couldn't go all the way, losing to Andy Murray in three sets before another poor result in Shanghai.

He decided to skip Paris Masters again and this time he wasn't the force to be reckoned with in London, ending his campaign in the round robin stage after two losses but managing to end the season on a high note with two wins over the Argentinians in the Davis Cup final a week later.

A left knee injury had sidelined Nadal for the rest of 2012 season after Wimbledon and he returned even stronger in 2013, winning personal best 15 matches after the US Open. He lost in the final of Beijing to Djokovic and in the semi-final of Shanghai against Juan Martin del Potro and in Paris versus David Ferrer.

He scored four wins at the ATP Finals to reach the final for the second time but Novak Djokovic proved to be too strong, defeating Rafa 6-3 6-4. The Spaniard struggled with injuries again in 2014 and he played only Beijing, Shanghai and Basel after Wimbledon, winning four out of seven matches for the worst post-US Open run since 2004! As always, Rafa was back on the winning way in 2015, playing five tournaments and winning 17 matches after the US Open, his career best after those 15 wins in 2013.

Novak Djokovic halted him in the final of Beijing and Tsonga ousted him in the semi-final of Shanghai. In his first Basel final, Nadal lost to Roger Federer and the other Swiss Stan Wawrinka stopped him in Paris in two tie breaks.

After three wins in round robin in London, Novak showed his dominance over Rafa on an indoor court again in the semi-final but despite not winning any title this was very solid season-ending. 2016 was his worst in terms of the results after the US Open if we exclude 2012, winning just two matches in Beijing and deciding to finish the season after the second round loss in Shanghai due to a wrist injury.

Nadal's fourth and so far the last ATP title in the post-US Open period had come in Beijing last year and he played well in Shanghai too, reaching the final that he lost to Roger Federer in straight sets. A right knee injury forced Nadal to withdraw from Paris after securing the year-end number 1 spot and he decided to leave London after just one match at the ATP Finals that he lost to David Goffin after a great battle.

It is unclear will Rafa be able to play again by the end of 2018 but he will do his best to recover in time for Paris and London and fight with Novak Djokovic for that year-end number 1 spot that he already conquered in 2008, 2010, 2013 and 2017. Nadal's score after the US Open per season:


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