After Defeating Thiem in Top Form to Win His 5th Madrid Title, Nadal Now Looks to Close in on Number 10 in Paris
MADRID, Spain – The haters will hate, and the lovers will love, but one thing is certain: Nadal is not only back, but in the best form of his career.
Today’s two set victory over the unforgiving Thiem (7-6, 6-4) proved to be more than just a win for the Mallorca native. It redefined Rafael Nadal as a tennis player and clay court star.
Contrary to other showings on the dirt, Nadal seemed to have every tool in the toolbox at his disposal, and used every one of them well. The critics of Nadal’s lack of depth and offensive strategy were silenced, as he pushed Thiem around with penetrating loops, then pouncing on the short ball. But that isn’t to say Nadal completely ditched the defensive strategy either. His strategy proved to be most effective: hit the right shots at the right time.
Finally, after years and years on the tour, it can be said that Nadal plays the proper balance of offense and defense, capitalizing on his opponents weak replies while staying alive under pressure. Previously, commentators like McEnroe and Annacone complained that in turning points of the match, Rafa tended to resort to his defensive style too often. He didn’t play as the aggressor, which is why he frequently fell short to Federer and Djokovic off the clay, where playing defense pays the least dividends. Now, with the addition of an offensive mindset, he is new warrior, one that will not allow his fellow stars to feel comfortable, on or off his favorite surface.
One of these “stars” is Dominic Thiem, who felt the full force of Rafa’s new self in today’s match. Thiem’s superb success leading up to it did not seem to grant him any advantage against the God of Nadal. The same way Nadal has broken other players’ “will” as Justin Gimelstob calls it, Rafa strove to do the same today against Thiem. Thiem though, put up a great fight, and a unique challenge to Rafa. He hit the ball harder and heavier than Nadal on average, tending to push Rafa around more than anyone this year on the clay. Rafa, though, with inhuman skills, was able to absorb many of Thiem’s punishing blows, returning them deep with a lots of his own spin, making Dominic struggle to continually hit the corners with accuracy. In result, Thiem eventually over hit the ball, conceding the point to Nadal. In some cases, Dominic was able to force an error or hit a winner. But these instances were not frequent enough to win consistently. So, when this was not working, Thiem decided to go into grinding mode, hoping to out rally Nadal with conservative loops. This is when the new Nadal made his presence known.
Every ball that was left short was ripped, and every volley that was given was slapped away with force. The effect was suffocating; if Thiem failed to hit a near winner on every shot, he was bound to lose control of the point, and ultimately the match. When Thiem gained the offensive, Nadal once again was able to diffuse the power and draw an unforced error. As the Tennis Channel team commented multiple times, Nadal was a “problem solver,” able to respond to Thiem’s barrage of weapons, winning the crucial points.
As impeccable as Rafa’s groundstrokes were, his serves were even moreso. This is the area of his game that has been fully revolutionized by his new assistant coach, Carlos Moya. Not falling into his predictable patterns of the past, Nadal mixed up his serve, targeting Thiem’s forehand and backhand while utilizing various speeds and spins. This allowed Rafa in his service games to begin the rally in a favorable position, and also win some free points off of aces.
Now, many may be thinking that I am a Rafa fanboy for not giving Thiem any props for his effort. I applaud him for it, and will write more about him in the near future. And, no, Rafa is not my favorite player, but he certainly makes it hard not to gawk in amazement at his newfound succcess.
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