The easy charge is that Nadal is too broken down or old to keep dominating tennis. It’s a discordant tune that will become a tiresome chorus each and every time he loses at majors. But perhaps a greater factor is that the ATP tour is no longer the same arena of combatants and styles. The way that players are winning is different, and Nadal’s old-school style, just a half decade removed from being cutting-edge, has become the anachronism.
It’s the way of change or progress for people and institutions, and tennis is no exception. A few years ago Nadal could impose a more methodical style and pace to control his opponents. He could seemingly bend time and slow clocks.
Now the whole world has accelerated as if it’s in a hurry to assimilate culture and sports into a world of faster technology, polarizing comments, social media and athletes who want to play faster than ever before.
The ATP is bolder and more aggressive, spawning more quick-strike athletes who accept the risk-reward, all-or-nothing kinds of incentives that are taking place in men’s tennis.
Nadal is having a hard time keeping up with the explosive nature of the flamboyant athlete, guys like his most recent Wimbledon conquerors “electric” Brown and “charismatic” Nick Kyrgios, who embody more of the professional basketball “boom” mentality that is chipping away at old-school baseline warriors like Nadal:
Attack early and finish quickly. Every shot is a potential force for power and immediate winning. Don’t let the baseliners turn it into a yawner. Make ‘em run on defense and cut ‘em off with something bold. Then scream like you’re primeval.
Nadal, well known for his tics and routines, is a rhythm player, bonded by years of training and preparation to impose his style and way of playing. For several years, he’s been the most important force in tennis in how the game has been played.
In January 2014, there were plenty of rumblings and concerns about slow court speeds and what needed to be done to speed up the game at the Australian Open. And that tournament was a kind of symbolic transition for a superstar like Nadal who was dominating the tour and looking to win his third major in four attempts (and perhaps four of five when we include winning the 2014 French Open).
That 2014 Australian Open semifinal saw Nadal punch out a masterpiece against more elderly rival Roger Federer. Then, just as suddenly, as if his back were the cause of pushing him into the Twilight Zone of a new era, he was knocked around by Stan Wawrinka’s bold, go-for-broke mentality. Never mind that Wawrinka was a year older than Nadal. It was the way that he swung from his heels, scoffing at percentages and paradigms that had been established by the likes of Nadal and Novak Djokovic.
There have been other signs that bigger servers and quick-strike tennis would be rewarded. Lightweight Alexandr Dolgopolov whacked his way past Nadal at Indian Wells in 2014. Wawrinka, Kei Nishikori and Marin Cilic experienced more success with their quick-strike approaches over the subsequent months, and they represented more of the alternative attacks that are slowly if not appreciably having greater success on the tour.
There’s no question that Wawrinka’s 2015 French Open title has shown that yesteryear’s most dominant champions can be vulnerable to a risky, big hitter. Expect more of these opportunities to come.
Maybe highlight players like Grigor Dimitrov will click into gear when they discover the rewards to offensive strikes. Perhaps young Kyrgios will find paydirt with his raw athleticism and improvisational attacks. Is there a better chance that a big server like Milos Raonic will find success in the near future? It’s a spirited kind of approach if not completely established or very consistent, yet.
So there was Nadal, gamely trying to fight back against another explosive talent, a journeyman not even ranked in the top 100, but nevertheless a dangerous opponent who could certainly be acclaimed as a grass-court specialist. Nadal, by comparison, was in slow motion, as if even his stubborn attempts to control time and pace between serves simply had no more effect on his opponent’s energetic nature.
Even when Nadal tried to reply with some quick play of his own, he was awkward at times, pushing volleys sideways and long off of the court, and then not exactly in rhythm to execute more than a handful of passing shots. Truth be told, Nadal was not bad, just out of touch, outdated and unable to play like it was Wimbledon 2010.
It’s not that Nadal is unaware of his predicament. He has tried to finish points quicker, but this does not play to his strengths and past familiarity on how to win. In the past he’s upgraded his strings, and recently he’s tried to play with a new racket, but it’s tough. He’s trying to change weapons and fight in a new terrain.
The immediate outlook is not so promising. Nadal’s Wimbledon ship sailed four years ago, and it’s going to be awfully tough at the U.S. Open Series and into the fall where deep draws of fast-paced players are brandishing bigger tools with visions of global conquests. BBC Sport noted this remark from Nadal:
Nadal is presumably healthy and fit, and he’s had plenty of time to look at old blueprints and contemplate adjustments (see U.S. Open 2013). He understands that the wind is blowing in a more offensive direction, but it’s hard to keep up.
Old habits die hard, especially with aging champions who must fight against the currents of time.
The Spanish superstar has a few years of winning tennis left in the tank, but it might be less about his age or the wear and tear. Can he upgrade what he did in 2013, finding the right blend of baseline aggression and effective serving?
Where once the tour was exclusively about beating Federer, Djokovic and Andy Murray, Nadal must now also keep up with the likes of Wawrinka, Brown, Kyrgios and others who can bring a less predictable and more uncharted, albeit inconsistent, nature to tennis.
Nadal must adapt his old-school style into the wrinkles of the future, and perhaps he will still find a few more championship windows to break down.
The South Korean government on Friday agreed to inject $20 billion into the flagging economy, which has been hit by the MERS virus outbreak and sluggish consumption. The 22-trillion-won ($19.8 billion) stimulus package was passed at a cabinet meeting of government ministers, the finance ministry said. "The extra budget will help revitalise the economy and stabilise the livelihoods of ordinary people who have been affected the most by the fallout from MERS," Vice Finance Minister Bang Moon-Kyu was quoted as saying by Yonhap news agency.
Independent media service is vital to reverse decades of brainwashing so, despite cutbacks, the BBC must step up
The drought in North Korea will have only one consequence if it continues: many of the country’s chronically malnourished population will die.
Yet their deaths won’t change the way the country is run because the two vectors of power in North Korea – Kim Jong-un’s regime and the government of neighbouring China – have no real public opinion to answer to.
If the Los Angeles Lakers don’t turn their fortunes around inside three years, then heads will roll in the front office. More specifically, Jim Buss, part-owner and president of basketball operations, may be out of a job.
In an interview with KPCC in Pasadena, California, (via ESPN.com’s Baxter Holmes), Lakers team president Jeanie Buss said her brother would walk away from the organization if he can’t get Los Angeles’ rebuilding plan on track:
This is my job. I’m part-owner of the team, but I’m also the president. The Buss family is the majority owner but we have other partners as well who are also shareholders, and I have an obligation to them. Would I make those changes? Yes. My brother understands that we have to continue to strive for greatness and I think he would be the first one to feel that he would need to step down if he can’t get us to that point.
Jeanie Buss’ comments aren’t exactly a bombshell. She was simply echoing Jim’s sentiments from April 2014, per Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times:
I was laying myself on the line by saying, if this doesn’t work in three to four years, if we’re not back on the top—and the definition of top means contending for the Western Conference, contending for a championship—then I will step down because that means I have failed. I don’t know if you can fire yourself if you own the team … but what I would say is I’d walk away and you guys figure out who’s going to run basketball operations because I obviously couldn’t do the job.
The Lakers are coming off of their worst season in team history, even dating back to the days of the Minneapolis Lakers. Even a franchise as storied as Los Angeles would need some time to turn around a team that finished 21-61.
ESPN.com’s Arash Markazi noted that Buss’ three-year deadline began in 2014-15, so he’ll need to hope the process still moves expediently:
What Jeanie Buss’ comments serve to do is place even more pressure on Jim after questions about his stewardship of the organization have come to light over the past year and change.
Magic Johnson went on ESPN’s First Take last February and criticized Jim Buss’ handling of the Lakers.
“Jim is trying to do it himself and trying to prove to everybody that this was the right decision that [his] dad gave [him] the reins,” he said (via Holmes). “He’s not consulting anybody that can help him achieve his goals and dreams to win an NBA championship.”
Johnson then went on to say that Buss should allow general manager Mitch Kupchak to have more authority on personnel matters. He made similar statements in January 2014 as well.
Magic wasn’t the only Lakers legend to call out Buss, either.
In March 2014 as he announced he was shutting down for the rest of the season, Kobe Bryant essentially called out Buss when discussing some of the team’s issues, per CBS Sports’ Ken Berger:
You’ve got to start with Jim. You’ve got to start with Jim and Jeanie and how that relationship plays out. It starts there and having a clear direction and clear authority. And then it goes down to the coaching staff and what Mike is going to do — what they’re going to do with Mike — and it goes from there. It’s got to start at the top.
In Jordan Clarkson, Julius Randle and D’Angelo Russell, the Lakers look to have a young core that could spur the kind of organic growth somewhat unfamiliar to the franchise. Los Angeles is simply used to poaching the biggest and best free agents or trade chips in order to remain competitive.
Whether or not Clarkson, Randle and Russell put it together in the next few years may determine Jim Buss’ fate in the organization.
Letting The Freedom Of Truth Uncover The Value Of Life