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Nadal still far from over but needs a game makeover

Image Credit: Getty Images.

Image Credit: Getty Images.

In the last three Grand Slams, Nadal's performance hasn't looked anywhere close to what he used to be.

After spending most part of last two years getting on and off the court due to injuries, it looked like the nine-time French Open champion was finally returning to his best. But the shocking first-round loss in the Australian Open to fellow Spaniard, Fernando Verdasco, has put serious doubts if we would ever see the never-say-die attitude of Nadal taking him to another major title.

In a match that lasted four hours and 41 minutes and five sets, Verdasco showed tremendous determination and hit a whooping 90 winners and won six games in a row to make up for his 2009 semis loss at Melbourne Park against Nadal.

What was more disappointing and worrying for the 14-time Grand Slam champion’s fans was that he was outmanoeuvred in the kind of play he is known best for - playing hard-hitting forehand shots from the baseline and try to return almost everything.

In the last three Grand Slams, Nadal's performance hasn't looked anywhere close to what he used to be. Injuries have played a part in his downfall but it seems that he has lost belief in his abilities and lacks motivation. He may look in good shape but his feet movement is much slower and the way he lost the fifth set against Verdasco shows that he is lacking the strong mental strength he has always been known for.

The year 2015 was the worst in his career.

After losing to qualifier Dustin Brown at Wimbledon semis, Nadal was knocked out of US Open third round by Italy's Fabio Fognini. Towards the end of the year, he was returning back to his form. He lost in the final of Swiss Indoors Basel, defeated Roger Federer at the International Premier Tennis League (IPTL) and also reached the final of Qatar Open at the start of the year where Novak Djokovic thrashed him in a one-sided match and now after the loss against Verdasco, Nadal and his coaching staff need to regroup and find out what is going wrong.

Nadal, who won his last Grand Slam at the Roland Garros in 2014, used to outdo his opponents with his athleticism and ability to make comeback from any position, but the way he lost to Fognini and Verdasco was completely unexpected.

Against Fognini he was up by two sets while during his match against the fellow Spaniard, Nadal had won two out of three sets. On both occasions he let the game slip away by not pushing his opponents hard enough and lost in five sets. Also, Fognini and Verdasco had nothing to lose but the match, so they took risks and hit more winners. Verdasco’s 90 winners in a match was exceptional but he also made 91 unforced errors, and that is also very unusual.

“I don’t know a hundred per cent the reason. In terms of being competitive, I was competitive. In terms of creating damage to the opponent with my forehand, I didn’t. I was hitting forehands, and he was able to keep hitting winners,” said Nadal at the post-match conference after his loss.

With Djokovic almost looking unbeatable, Federer not ready to give up at 34, Murray looking supremely fit, and the likes of Stan Wawrinka and Marin Cilic always giving a threat to the top-4, Nadal can’t afford to lose matches like these. He will soon be turning 30 and unlike Federer, his game is more about brute power than flair. Toni Nadal has had a brilliant run with his nephew but Rafa needs to improve his serve and net approach and need someone who can bring his confidence back.

If Tony is not able to help him improve, then he must think about changing his coach. Former US tennis star John McEnroe had asked him to sack Tony and get a new coach if wants to regain his top form.

If Federer, at the end of his career, can change his game and strategies and create a shot like the 'Sneak Attack By Roger’, Nadal, who has still got at least 3-4 years of tennis left in him, can surely innovate his playing style a bit and if needed, change his coach to return back to his glory days in tennis.