First, I have to say that Rafa not being involved in the proceedings of a clay tennis tournament on an April weekend is weird. For the past gazillion years (er…four), I have arisen early on Saturday mornings in April, to be greeted by Rafa in all his splendor on the red clay of Monte Carlo and/or Barcelona. But alas, no such sight greeted me today. Instead, I found myself wandering aimlessly around town, feigning interest in people’s dogs and buying smoothies. It was sad.
This can’t continue, obviously. I mean, the next thing you know I’m not even going to be feigning interest in dogs (who love me, incidentally, despite the lack of reciprocation). I am actually going to be interested. And that can’t happen (although, admittedly, I was pretty interested in a St. Bernard. It’s the first time I’ve ever seen one in real life/outside of the Beethoven movies. Also one time I saw a dog that was almost as tall as a pony that I found interesting.)
Second, yesterday I wondered about the possible explanations for Rafa’s struggles of late. As it turns out, Rafa addressed the reasons directly in his press conference, with his patented brand of clinical, spot-on assessmentizing/unflinching honesty, both with regard to the localized and global issues he’s experiencing with his game right now:
I didn’t play the right way. I didn’t play with the right intensity with my forehand. I played too short. I give him the chance to have the control of the point almost all the time.
Is not lose, is the feeling on court was not the best one. So not happy today about what I did. Not very happy about the way that I played the second set after losing the first. I didn’t play with the right intensity at the beginning of the second. I give him big opportunity at the beginning of the second. I cannot do it.
The reasons [for making so many unforced errors] is I am not playing enough well. That’s the main reason. I am not playing with the right intensity with my legs. When that happens, the unforced errors are there more often.
Is true that I started the year great in Doha and during Australia. But, I don’t know, I don’t have to lie to nobody. After what happened in Australia was little bit harder for me to find again the intensity, the confidence, the inside power that always I have.
Even if I won Rio, I played the final in Miami, you know, remains something in my mind and in my game. I going to fight to try to find that solution soon.
Yesterday, too, I played good, with confidence. But is not that problem. The problem is when the match became little bit more to the limit, and not answering the right way as I normally do. So that’s it.
I think after what happened [in Australia], not only the lose, the same time, too, the pain in my back that I had, I had to do treatment after Australia, not playing for three weeks. I played in Rio. After Rio I had to stop for 10 or 12 days again because the back still hurt me.
But after that I feel the back much better. So I already have since Indian Wells to here I am doing a regular work. Should be okay for that.
No, no, is not an excuse on the back. No, the back is in good shape. Physical performance is in good shape. No problems about that.
Just keep working to try to find the solution for next week in Barcelona. I going to try to play well in there and fight for the matches.
Lose against David Ferrer is not surprise. Frustration? I cannot be frustrated to lose a tennis match. In the life there is much more important things than a tennis match.
No frustration, no drama. Just tennis match. But at the end I prefer to win (smiling).
So. Rafa is a little hung up on Australia, but, it sounds like it wasn’t so much the one match/loss itself, but rather the sequence of events related to it/that followed, i.e. the pain in the back (which, like any injury, can understandably lead to fear of a recurrence and subsequent tentativeness/preemptive compensation/“off-ness” even after it’s healed) and the treatment and the missed practice/playing time, which all combined to lead to less confidence, rhythm, and “inside power” (I’m not sure if Rafa meant power inside the court, i.e. hitting forehands and backhands with power and depth from inside the baseline, or power inside the Rafa, i.e. Rafa has a special well of psychical power inside him that he draws on to win tennis matches. I am going to assume the latter, because that is awesome.) This makes much more sense to me than the idea of him being hung up on the loss itself (and his rotten luck therein), because Rafa is not the type of player or person to attach that much significance to any one match or to feel sorry for himself to that degree, as he has a healthy perspective and understands that there are much bigger things in life (which he also, incidentally, points out in the press conference) than a tennis match and that he is very lucky regardless of the outcomes on the tennis court, and that as an athlete, he has to be prepared to lose and be resilient in the face of those losses, because as I pointed out yesterday based on Rafa’s frequent pointing out of it, including in yesterday’s press conference, everyone can win, and everyone can lose, every time they take the court.
So. Rafa’s attitude is great, i.e he seems driven and focused on his solution-finding mission rather than disheartened or disconsolate over some subpar results. Nevertheless, I am still a little concerned due to the light switch issue, i.e. a great attitude doesn’t necessarily mean the tennis will come together. Sometimes the tennis has a mind of its own. Rafa had a great attitude in Monte Carlo and Miami and even Indian Wells, I thought–i.e. he seemed happy and relaxed and eager–but he still ultimately played bad tennis and lost, retreating into a strange blankness/nervousness during crunch time in matches, which caused some dissonance for me, because happy eager Rafa typically wins and yet happy eager Rafa was temporarily transforming into sad Rafa on the court and then losing before transforming back into happy eager Rafa afterward even though sad Rafa lost. Like I said, dissonance.
But, sometimes getting back on track takes time, and Rafa does have at least a bit more of that before playing his best becomes absolutely essential to having a successful season. In fact, in a way, it might be better that he’s pushing back his peak-time a little this year, giving up March and this week in April. This way he can win Wimbledon in July.
For the time being, though, the focus is on Barcelona. I think Rafa can safely win this tournament and also RG and Wimbledon. The draw is not exactly easy, what with all of Spain and one of the few active players on tour to have a winning record over Rafa potentially standing in his way. In the end, though, I think we all know who it’s going to come down to:
marc lopez tarres (@marclopeztarres) April 20, 2013
(That’s actually from a year ago when Marc qualified for the main draw in Barcelona, but it’s the same Marc, who is once again in qualifying this year and who is one match away from the main draw and who I am going to assume will make the main draw for the purposes of this draw analysis.)
In the final, Rafa will defeat Marc, 6-7(0), 7-6(5), 7-6(6), after saving a Championship point at 5-6 in the third set breaker when Marc elicits a short ball from Rafa and runs up to put it away but then as he’s deciding on which side of the court to hit it, his eyes lock with Rafa’s and Rafa’s like (telepathically), “I MADE YOU.” and then Marc is like (telepathically), “AU CONTRAIRE I MADE YOU.” and then, telepathically/simultaneously, “WE MADE EACH OTHER,” except during all that telepathy, Marc loses track of time and the ball bounces twice and he loses the point and then Rafa wins the next two points, and the title.