Maybe, just maybe, the other players are on to Nadal. Maybe they have cracked the code and hacked into his game to find a weakness. If this happened, it is not unusual as it happens to many players. The only unusual thing is that in Nadal’s case it has taken so long – assuming it has happened.
In the Madrid Open, Nadal barely edged by Djokovic, 3-6, 7-6, 7-6, in the semifinals. Then, for the first time in a long time, Nadal lost to Federer 6-4, 6-4 in the finals.
In this key match Federer finally changed his strategy against Nadal. Federer stopped hitting slice backhands, hit his second serve a lot harder, and mixed up his game by using drop shots. Federer also came to the net occasionally on his second serve – and also faked coming to net on his second serve. These elements took Nadal out of his comfort zone.
In the French Open, there was an even bigger shock to Nadal’s game when he lost to Soderling, 6-2, 6-7, 6-4, 7-6. Soderling’s strategy? He risked big on his serve and overpowered Nadal in the rallies, which put Nadal on the run.
Soderling hit nearly twice as many winners as Nadal (61 to 33) and frequently followed his fast, flat drives to net where he won 27 of 35 points. This is a marked contrast from Soderling’s loss to Federer, several weeks prior, by 6-1, 6-0 – nearly a double bagel.
After defeating Nadal, Soderling appeared to be the biggest threat to Federer in the French Open. However, let us remember that Soderling has never beaten Federer, and lost to him by the easy score of 6-1, 7-5 in the second round of the Madrid Open.
History was made when Federer beat Soderling easily, 6-1, 7-6, 6-4, to win the French Open. According to Soderling, Federer won this match by making him run so that he could not get set with his power shots, as he did with Nadal. According to Soderling, “I think the match was what I expected, I played him so many times. I did not play aggressive enough. Every time I play against him, it’s what I end up saying. “Now I am learning that it’s not that I play bad, it is that he makes me play bad.”
“Roger’s game does not suit my game at all, he does not let me be aggressive, he made me run a lot today. Instead, all matches against Rafa I dictated the points.
“Against Roger, I can’t do that.”
It is now Federer who has the streak on clay. Winning five matches in Madrid and seven matches in Paris, Federer has 12 consecutive wins on clay – not his best surface. This is while Nadal struggled on clay with Djokovic, Soderling, and Federer.
Perhaps Nadal has joined the human race, after all.
Now that Federer has all the confidence he has gained on clay, we move to the faster courts including Wimbledon, where Federer now clearly on his game, confident, relaxed, and with history on his side, he the man to beat.