Has Nadal’s career already peaked?
Rafael Nadal has electrified men’s tennis since bursting on to the scene in 2005 but there are worrying signs that the Spaniard’s career may already have peaked.
With six grand slam titles to his name already Nadal has already staked his claim as one of the greats of the game but the aura he used to bring to the court has vanished.
In his first round-robin match at the ATP World Tour Finals in London on Monday he was bullied by Sweden’s Robin Soderling, spending virtually the whole match on the run.
It was a similar story on Wednesday against Nikolay Davydenko, with the Spaniard losing his second match in straight sets to leave himself with no chance of making progress.
The match against Soderling was instructive. His shots lacked depth and menace, and were food and drink to his opponent, who had time to set up hisbig forehand and pin Nadal in the corners of the court.
The serve is a worry too — he is managing very few easy points there — and then there is the matter of his knees. Only Nadal knows how much the tendonitis that prevented him from defending his Wimbledon title is still bothering him.
So much of Nadal’s mystique was built around his physical attributes, his speed and his court coverage. Getting the ball past his racket looked a near impossibility at times as Nadal often seemed twice as big as he actually is.
That intimidatory factor is not there now, however. His movements seems a little less explosive and players with the tools to attack the Spaniard are able to dominate rallies that used to be bread and butter for Nadal.
Better players than Soderling and even Davydenko used to walk on court against Nadal already beaten between the ears. For a while even Roger Federer, the greatest player to wield a racket, seemed to have run out of ideas against him.
Right now, however, Nadal looks vulnerable and he is without a title since May. In Beijing in October he was thrashed in the semi-finals by Marin Cilic and recently in Paris world number three Novak Djokovic proved far too strong.
For the sake of tennis, it has to be hoped that Nadal can recover his spark in time for the defence of his Australian title in January. The men’s game would be a poorer product without the swashbuckling Spaniard challenging for grand slam titles.
PHOTO: Rafael Nadal of Spain reacts during his ATP World Tour Finals tennis match against Nikolay Davydenko of Russia in London November 25, 2009. REUTERS/Suzanne Plunkett