Quotable Quotes: Here’s to confidence. Not.
REUTERS: At the U.S. Open, you have the chance of becoming only the seventh man ever to win all four grand slams. Do you think about that at all? Does that weigh on your mind, the possibility and what that would mean for you?
NADAL: “Not right now, no. Right now I am only thinking of my knees and am trying to find my best performance as soon as possible.”
REUTERS. You are obviously thinking of short term goals right now, but getting back to the number one spot, is that a long term goal for you?
NADAL: “No, not right now. I was very happy to be number one for almost a year. But, no my goal is to be competitive, to try and win important tournaments. That’s my goal and if it’s like this then I am going to have my chances to be number one another time but my important goal is to try to perform well to win important tournaments, not to be number one.”
The tennis media has been quick to play down Rafa’s chances at the US Open, and for the large part – they’re right. Rafa does come into the Open with the least amount of momentum. Not to mention his myriad of problems – knees, parents, Gasquet first round, Murray/Del Potro, Tsonga, sleeves, drink bottles …
But I’m going to be a bit of a contrarian here and point out a few things do work in his favour:
- Flying under the radar: we know that Rafa works the best when he sees himself as the second man, the hunter and not the hunted. Even when he was beating the crap out of everyone, he conceded that Federer was the better player. Not the kind of thing you would ever catch Federer (or the other two clowns in the Big Four) saying. But it seems to be the way for Rafa to take some pressure off himself. If he wanted less media hype and more room to focus on his game going into the Open, he’s found himself in the perfect situation.
- Rafa’s game was coming together in Cincinnati: no need for the fact that he lost to Djokovic to obliterate Rafa’s performance in Cincy. The match against Berdych was almost vintage Nadal, if Nadal’s game could ever be described as vintage. Considering Nadal lost to Djokovic at the same tournament by almost the same score line last year, and then went on to take the Olympics by storm, the loss probably wasn’t as significant for Rafa as the win was for Djokovic on the other side of the net.
- Career slam motivation: Roger Federer won the French Open. Who saw that coming? With the way Federer was playing against Acasuso and Haas? With the way he played through the first half of the year? But sometimes, the sight of a carrot dangling just around the corner is enough to pull a champ through. Who knows? Lady Luck might smile on Rafa this time – a few upsets here and there would help, starting with Tsonga and Murray. But once Rafa escapes Week 1 unharmed, the second week of slams should be familiar territory for him. In a best of five setting, I still like his chances.
- ‘A little too fresh’ was Rafa’s response to the issue of being ‘fresh’ at the Open. But just to state the obvious – for once in his career, Rafa’s well-rested, and has had a chance to recover from his early season burn out. We’ll let the results decide where to draw the fine line between ‘fresh’ and ‘too fresh’. With a quarterfinal in Montreal and a semi in Cincy, who knows? He might be just fresh enough.
- Stranger things have happened this year: so why the hell not? Slam-wise, this whole year has been totally wacky. A win in New York would 1) shut up the bandwagoning critics, 2) add more fuel to the GOAT debate, without which the realm of tennis would not be the same, 3) and reinforce Rafa’s place in history as, not just one of the more accomplished players out there, but also possibly the most resilient. Sounds like the perfect plot for the tale-spinning mainstream media, and the Tennis Gods like their little plots. Doncha think?
All this aside, Rafa is not my pick for the US Open, but there is a case to be made that his chances are not as slim as one would make them out to be. They’re about as good as Federer’s chances of winning Roland Garros was back in May. And look what’s happened since then.
Matadors, beware the wounded bull.