Sunday, July 3, 2011
Nadal vows to find a way to return to No. 1
WIMBLEDON, England -- Rafael Nadal leaves the All England Club having lost two of the most prized possessions in tennis -- the Wimbledon title and the No. 1 ranking.
To get them back from the man who robbed him of both, the Spaniard must figure out why his relentless, hard-hitting style of tennis just doesn't seem to work against Novak Djokovic anymore.
Djokovic beat Nadal 6-4, 6-1, 1-6, 6-3 in Sunday's Wimbledon final, the fifth time he has beaten the Spaniard in a title match this year -- on three different surfaces.
"When one player beats you five times it's because today my game don't bother him a lot," Nadal said. "Today probably against me he's playing better than my level. And find solutions, that's what I have to try and that's what I'm going to try. ... I only lose matches this year against him. That's the truth. When I was healthy, I only lost against him."
It's not the first time Nadal finds himself in this situation.
He spent several years as the No. 2 player in the world behind Roger Federer before finally surpassing the Swiss star. That regime change was also showcased on Wimbledon's Centre Court, where Nadal lost two straight finals to Federer before beating him in an epic five-setter in 2008. He took over the No. 1 ranking in August that year.
"I understand the sport like this," Nadal said. "When one player is better than you, at this moment the only thing you can do is work, try to find solutions, and try to wait a little bit for your time. Last five times (against Djokovic) wasn't my time. I'm going to wait and I'm going to try a sixth. And if the sixth doesn't happen, to the seventh. It's going to be like this. That's the spirit of the sport."
The rivalry between Federer and Nadal was long the focal point of tennis -- and widely seen as the greatest in the history of the sport. Nadal beat Federer for the fourth time in the French Open final last month for his sixth title at Roland Garros -- the eighth time they met in a Grand Slam final.
But with Federer -- who lost in the quarterfinals to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga after wasting a two-set lead -- having slipped to No. 3 in the rankings and about to turn 30 in August, Nadal may have found a new nemesis in the 24-year-old Djokovic.
The Serb also won the Australian Open for the second time this year and improved his record to 48-1 in 2011, his only loss coming to Federer in the French Open semifinals.
On Sunday, he essentially beat Nadal at his own game, chasing down shots all over the court and dominating rallies with powerful groundstrokes. He became the first player other than Nadal and Federer to win Wimbledon since 2003 and may just have finally ended the stranglehold the duo has held on men's tennis for nearly a decade.
"We all know the careers of Nadal and Federer," Djokovic said. "I always believed that I have quality to beat those two guys. I always believed I have quality to win majors, Grand Slams, and that was the only way I could be here in this position. I mean, I have full respect for those two guys, what they have done. Anytime I play them, I mean, it's a great match."
While this has essentially been the Year of Djokovic in men's tennis, Nadal said he was certain even the Serb must have a letdown eventually. When he does, the Spaniard will be first in line to wrest the top spot back away from him.
"My experience says this level is not forever," Nadal said of Djokovic's play. "Even for me when I was last year winning three Grand Slams, my level of last year is not forever. Probably the level of Novak of today is not forever. I'm going to be here fighting all the time, waiting (for) my moment."