Rafa: A Master Adjuster


After seven consecutive losses in finals to the same rival, world number two Rafael Nadal soundly defeated top ranked, Novak Djokovic, 6-3, 6-1 in the 2012 final of Monte Carlo. In no uncertain terms, Nadal was dominant.

Unquestionably, Djokovic was under an emotional burden after the death of his grandfather to whom he was very close. He learned of the death shortly prior to his semifinal win over Alexandr Dolgopolov.

It was immediately apparent that Djokovic was grief-impaired. During the match, clear preoccupation was evident at times when his over-13-month aura of confidence was displaced by a rapt, disheartened posture. Only the innate ability that true champions possess enabled him to push through the grief to reach the finals.

But even had Djokovic not been under emotional duress, and I’m certain that many will take issue with this, I do not think he would have beaten Nadal today.

In another forum, I’ve stated emphatically that Nadal is not just a “brute force” player. Rather, he is a highly introspective, coachable champion who happens to play a very physical game.

Nadal has continually made the necessary adjustments to his game to achieve what only six other men in the history of tennis have done: win the career grand slam. I’ve alluded to these facts in previous posts as well.

It can and will be argued that after seven consecutive losses to Djokovic in finals, even had Djokovic been grief-free, it was simply time for the law of averages to grant Nadal victory.

Not the case. Nadal’s mental resilience and ability to make adjustments is what earned him his eighth consecutive Monte Carlo victory.

It wasn’t a grief laden Djokovic, luck, or the law of averages.

It was Rafa.

There were two distinct forces at work during Djokovic’s mastery of Nadal in their previous seven meetings in finals. One of those forces enabled the other so that the two worked in synergy to create a single dominant dynamism.

After Djokovic had a personal epiphany in which doubt concerning his abilities was purged, he became a “born again believer.” That belief so thoroughly boosted his confidence that he became the match dictator instead of the dictatee.

He played well inside the baseline, taking every ball early, or at the very least, at it’s apex, which continually kept Nadal pressed five to ten feet behind his baseline. It was the most impressive imposition of will onto an opponent, for an extended period of months, at the highest level of tennis, that I’ve ever seen.

As that dynamic unfolded, I was perplexed as to why it continued to happen. Surely Nadal, Uncle Tony and the entire Nadal camp recognized what was going on.

I can only surmise that it took Nadal this long to alter his natural inclination towards defense and become more offense-oriented against Djokovic. This modified approach was glaringly apparent in today’s Monte Carlo final.

Given this monkey is now off his back, and the convincing manner in which he dislodged the thing, I suspect that we will be seeing an increasingly aggressive Nadal.

It would be foolish to think that the metamorphosis is complete and absolute. I think it is still a work in progress.

Adapting a new play dynamic that is counterintuitive is difficult to say the least. For some, it seems impossible.

For Nadal its not.

That amazing willingness and ability to change is an ongoing hallmark of the singularly hardworking, unfailingly adaptable champion that we have come to know as “Rafa.”

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11 thoughts on “Rafa: A Master Adjuster

  1. i’m tired of all this singles stuff, the twins won the doubles. that’s all you old men play so why don’t you talk about it, plus your jumping on the Nadal band wagon to soon.

    • who invited you?!!! WTF you doing here and posting in the first place? If you dont like it get dont bother to write. It simple you a moron!!

  2. I concur with all you so eloquently said here. Nadal being exeptionally coachable is a fact blurred to many by his physicality.

    He tinkers constantly with his game, not just its fringes, but its very core. Never saw a champion do that.

    I believe this stems from his basic humility and hunger.

    • Indeed, he does continue to tinker with his game and I think that flexibility serves him well.
      He is a remarkable athlete and equally interesting person as well. His humility is a great part of his success. He is not smitten with himself and that shines through.
      Glad you enjoyed the read and thanks for complimenting my effort.
      Take care.

  3. My sentiments, exactly. Congratulations on a very thoughtful article, not to mention, well written. I wondered about the same thing since last year- why does Rafa continue to be so “defensive” and what on earth is Uncle Tony doing to remedy this?
    Thanks. Enjoyed “your take”.

    • Very glad you enjoyed the read. Thanks much for the compliment.
      Rafa is both a remarkable athlete and person.
      If you are a fan of his, you might enjoy his book entitled “Rafa.” I found it a fascinating read.
      Take care.

  4. Martin,
    I really agree with your comments. Rafa has long been my favorite male tennis player, and win or lose, I enjoy his game which is nothing less than all he has to give. The ability and the drive to change and adapt is phenomenal. Throughout he is supportive of others, deals with his ups and downs even handedly, and faces the need to make an adjustment.
    Billie

    • Agree!! He is amazing to come back and win!!while others win one GS or ATP title and don’t come back to win more and are struggling to get back to win anything. Many even retired without a single GS!!

      • Pete.
        I think that Nadal is not given nearly enough credit for his intellect. He is clearly a thinker, and not just a one-dimensional thinker. That ability combined with his physical attributes makes him a formidable opponent.
        I continue to marvel at his continued ability to silence his critics.

  5. Thanks again Martin! I love to watch Rafa’s brain at work on during a difficult match, how he works to set up points one way, then if it’s not working, tries different things until he solves the problem…I have seen this at least since he played…oh…I think it was Robert Kendrick at Wimby (2006). I remember being on a thread and people were panicking and for some reason I was calm…I said give him time, he will work it out…and he did πŸ™‚ (Can’t remember now the first time I saw him do this, but I had confidence in this match because of something I had seen at some earlier time, I am sure….)
    As long as his mind is in synch w/his body and his confidence on a level w/both, he is very, very hard to beat…
    And, even when he is not playing so well, he is STILL very hard to beat!
    And even when he loses, he rarely makes things easy for his opponent πŸ˜‰

    • Ooops – ‘at work on during’ – should be ‘at work during’ on first line…(really could use an ‘edit’ button on this board Lol!)

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