Analyzing Rafael Nadal’s Stunning Loss In Rio


Analyzing Rafael Nadal’s Stunning Loss in Rio

Since Rafael Nadal returned from injury at the beginning of the year, his play has raised questions rather than provide answers. He’s yet to win a title, and he’s suffered some worrisome losses; he looked listless in losing in the first round of the Qatar Open to Michael Berrer, and he was thoroughly dominated by Tomas Berdych at the Australian Open. The hope was that Nadal would bounce back and return to form in Rio, played on his beloved clay courts.

That wouldn’t be the case. Nadal was ousted in the quarterfinals last night, suffering a 1-6, 6-2, 7-5 loss to Fabio Fognini. It was his first loss in the semifinals of a clay court tournament in 12 years, and the loss will undoubtedly raise some serious questions about Nadal’s health and form. Nadal has yet to look totally healthy this season, and it seems like the gap between him and the rest of the tour is rapidly closing. He’s no longer a lock to win every clay court match he plays, and for the first time in years, he may not be the odds-on favorite to win the French Open.

“I feel my tennis is close, closer than a month ago to the level I want to arrive again,”

But while his play this season hasn’t been totally inspiring, Nadal himself feels like he’s making progress. “I feel my tennis is close, closer than a month ago to the level I want to arrive again,” he noted after the loss. “”I have to be happy the way I played that first set. But I got tired too early today. … these kinds of things can happen.”

Last night’s loss may not be as shocking as you think. Fognini is no scrub; he’s been ranked as high as #13 in the world, and clay is his best surface. While the mercurial Italian has been inconsistent throughout his career, he’s also capable of brilliant shotmaking, as he demonstrated last night. He can challenge anybody on a good day. Factor in that Nadal’s quarterfinal match, a three-set win over Pablo Cuevas, lasted until well past 3:00 AM, and the loss becomes a bit more reasonable. 

May 31, 2014; Paris, France; Fabio Fognini (ITA) in action during his match against Gael Monfils (FRA, not pictured) on day seven at the 2014 French Open at Roland Garros. Mandatory Credit: Susan Mullane-USA TODAY Sports

One loss doesn’t mean that Nadal is no longer a dominant clay court player. He lost three clay court matches during last year’s European clay swing, but he still won in Rio, Madrid and, most importantly, Roland Garros. He’s still the best clay court player on the planet, and if he can stay healthy and build some confidence, he has a great chances at adding some more clay court Masters titles to his already impressive resume.

Nadal has one 45 clay court titles, and he boasts an otherwordly 66-1 record at the French Open, where he’s one nine of the last ten titles. He’s still the favorite at Roland Garros, and unless somebody plays the match of their life, like Robin Soderling in 2009, the only guy with a real chance to end his run is Novak Djokovic.

The questions about Nadal’s health are legitimate. His knees are in bad shape, he’s had bad luck with a variety of other ailments, and there is a ton of wear and tear on his 28 year old body. But don’t count on this being the end of his run.

Next: Lob and Smash 2015 Grand Slam Predictions

More from Lob and Smash