It was the most enticing match-up of the day on paper for several reasons:
- Dustin Brown has an exciting game style. Refreshingly mixing up his shots and attacking the net.
- In contrast, Nadal is one of the best defenders of all time.
- Nadal did lose their previous meeting, in Halle last year.
In my mind, it was close to 50-50 match. Nadal lacks the confidence he thrived upon years ago and he has lost against opposition ranked lower than #100 in Wimbledon for three straight years.
2015 became the fourth straight year as Dustin Brown imposed his all-attacking game on Nadal. Blasting groundstrokes, attacking the net, not giving the Spaniard any rhythm whatsoever. The scoreline was fair: 7-5 3-6 6-4 6-4 in Brown’s favour.
An obviously disappointed Nadal said after the match:
“I don’t know if I will be back to the level of 2008 or 2010, 2007, 2006, or 2011,” Nadal said, making a disordered reference to the years when he reached the final. “I played five times here the last day, and had the trophy back home two times, so it’s not too bad.”
The question in all tennis nerds and fans minds is: will he be back to his old “Vamos form”?
When you see results like this it’s hard not to be filled with doubt. More and more players know how to play against Nadal’s heavy top spin shots and he lacks the serve to win many free points. In his best years he played more aggressively and flatted out the ball on his forehand – what you see now is that he doesn’t dare to go for his shots in the same way. It’s there, the shot is there. But tennis is all about confidence and that’s not there at the moment.
But tennis players’ forms ebb and flow. We counted out Federer when he had his roughest years. Now he’s number two and consistently challenging in the biggest tournaments. Federer, however, has a more aggressive and “lean” playing style. This is evident also when you compare the number of injuries they’ve had. Nadal is suffering from always having to play longer points, not being able to win as many freebies with his serve and is, as we all know, not extremely comfortable (due to his knees especially) playing on other surfaces than clay.
Will he be back? I don’t know. I doubt he will ever win Wimbledon again. Actually, I think the only slam he really will be competing for is the French Open. But I hope I’m wrong. I hope I’m wrong.