Friday, March 19, 2010

Rafael Nadal’s pain-free return is a sight for sore eyes

There is a peculiar degree of suspicion each time Rafael Nadal is asked about his fitness, as if the vogue is to doubt him even when he says he is feeling fine — and thank you for your concern.
Such disbelief ought to get to the 2008 Wimbledon champion, but the only irritation he shows is when he screws up his face during a rambling question. He answers everything sincerely in the hope that we trust him at his word.
One wonders why those who have reported Nadal’s astonishing success from the age of 17 and been won over by his bravery and sincerity are such unalloyed sceptics. Yes, he had to get his knees tended to after his quarter-final retirement against Andy Murray in the Australian Open in January, a match that was threatening to become the tournament’s masterpiece, and at the end of 2009 he was but a shadow of the stirring Nadal.
As of this week, his movement and stroke-making at the BNP Paribas Open has been a wonder to behold and he reached the last four with a 6-4, 7-6 win over Tomas Berdych, of the Czech Republic. Do not take one man’s word for it, but listen to Francisco Roig, the Spaniard who bears responsibility for Nadal for periods of the year when Toni Nadal, Rafael’s uncle and coach, takes time off for family commitments and to refresh his mind.
“I have never seen Rafa play like he has this year in my life,” Roig, a 41-year-old former tour pro, said. “In Qatar, in Abu Dhabi, in the first two sets against Andy [Murray] and this week, we have seen he is a more complete player, someone who is able to do more things with his game.”
So, what of the doom-mongers? “People have no idea,” he said. “To talk about these things, you have to be inside of the work day to day, to know what he can do. I see him on the practice court every day and I am surprised every day.
“I stand behind him and I do not know how a player can hit the ball so strong, so good. I have never seen anyone in this sport who can arrive at a ball with not a good stance and still generate so much power. That is something he has had all his life, but now we are adding to his game.”
There are no real trade secrets in tennis — once you have seen a player often enough, you sense what they do well and not so well.
Nadal, the world No 3, has never had a devastating serve, his ground strokes lacked on different surfaces the bite he could rouse from the clay, so they needed to acquire a flatter trajectory. The assault on his limbs from hard-court tournaments would always count against him. Roig believes that he has four, maybe five years at 100 per cent and then he may have to call it a day.
“Rafa has finished four years as the No 2 player in the world and one as the No 1,” he said. “And he still has the ambition to win the big tournaments. I asked him once how many grand slams [tournaments] he thought he would win and he said, ‘Six, seven?’. I said for a player of his talents, he should have between eight and ten because he is a better player than those who have that number, in my opinion.
“But tennis is much, much tougher now than it was three years ago, especially among the top players.”
Into the semi-finals here, where he plays Ivan Ljubicic, the veteran from Croatia, today there is a sense that Nadal is relishing his tennis again. Watching him in the doubles with Marc López one is taken by the intensity, the drive, the frustration when a single ball goes awry. There is a gleam about him.
“He feels he is a really good player again,” Roig said. “It has never been only power with Rafa, but ability also and people do not see that. It is not always nice the way he does it, he is not [Tim] Henman. This is a different tennis. Sometimes, at the important moments, it is more important to be a mechanical player than a smooth one. Rafa knows the importance of how much risk he can take, and what risk is beneficial.”
There are not many coaches who would speak the way Roig does, be he part-time or not. The essence of belief in his player is all pervasive.
He accepts that at the O2 arena in southeast London last November, when Nadal lost all three round-robin matches at the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals, he played “terrible tennis” but that the upheavals in his family life had not been given enough credence. Nadal is playing wonderful tennis again. His legs do not hurt. His mother and father get on. We should be delighted.

Coach class•

Age 41, Roig played on the ATP tour from 1987 to 2001, earning $1,458,035 (now about £970,000).• Won nine career doubles titles, seven with Tomas Carbonell, his compatriot, all on clay. Reached a career-high ranking of 23 in doubles, 60 in singles.• Has been part of the Rafael Nadal set-up for five years, having also coached Alberto Berasategui, Feliciano López and Albert Costa (a former French Open champion), the Spaniards.• Runs the Barcelona Total Tennis Academy with Jordi Vilaro and Alvar Margets, other Spanish coaching professionals.• Appointed coach to the Spain Davis Cup side in 2009, under the captaincy of Costa. Spain won the Cup last December.


Post a Comment

Copyright (c)onine sports news | hot chicks and beer sexist Blog Page : ipl cheer girls