Tuesday, August 16, 2011

2011 US Open: Rafael Nadal

On the eve of the Australian Open, the year's first Grand Slam, Rafael Nadal was the No. 1 men's tennis player in the world, and he was essentially the one player in the world that nobody wanted to face.

Several months later, both of those distinctions belong to Novak Djokovic. That's what just one loss and victories in two of the three Grand Slams can do for you.

To be sure, this is not to say that Nadal is the subject of any kind of spectacular and unforeseen fall from grace. He has gone 45-7 on the year, and he did win the French Open yet again. He is "The King of Clay" until further notice.

That said, today's Nadal just doesn't seem to be as dangerous as the Nadal who came into 2011 with nine Grand Slams under his belt. He has been humbled, if you please, more often than not at the hands of Djokovic himself. He's beaten Nadal five times this year, most recently in the Wimbledon final.

With the U.S. Open set to kick off in the very near future, it would be easy to proclaim that Nadal and Djokovic are on yet another collision course. But even that is not as sure a thing as it has been in recent months. When we last saw Nadal, he lost to Ivan Dodig in the second round of the Rogers Cup.

You are free to forge your own interpretation of Nadal's 2011 season, but I'm of the mind that he is on the short end of a power shift that is moving more and more towards Djokovic with each passing week. Call it a changing of the guard.

But that doesn't mean Nadal has to like it. As the saying goes, he may be down, but he's not out. He won the U.S. Open last year, and he could certainly do so again.

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