Is 2019 Nadal Unplayable?

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Nadalism is the study of a sport anomaly. I have enough material already for this proposed vignette, a crafty account of the infamous toro de Mallorca.

His present form is berserk. Having watched a lot of Nadal over the years, this form is not really something I’ve seen from him. It’s Nadal more aggressive than I can recall, especially for hard courts. His serve is simply superb and all of this amounts to a guy obliterating an opponent in Bo5 in under 2 hours and 15 minutes.

How is one to counter-punch the point/match strategy of this particular rampant Rafa, this 2019 Australian Open version that is presumably unplayable? I noticed the form in the 2nd or 3rd round. Wrote about it here:

Unless Dimitrov is taking another step forward in his career, or de Minaur somehow has the heart to out-fight and out-play Nadal with a frenzied Aussie mob in-house to cheer him to victory, this group of guys don’t have a chance against the rampant Nadal — he’s already in that no bullshit Bo5 monster mode. A couple of things I see with him (saw him rag-doll Ebden a bit) is a solid serve, which we’re told he tweaked a bit for that one/two punch of his, which brings us to the “two”: his FH. He’s trying to absolutely end things with the FH. He’s even running around the BH. An improved serve, weakening his opponent’s return, and then ending the point with the unplayable FH is Nadal’s force right now. We know this.

The 1-2 punch is a popular strategy of many players today. But his version is even more aggressive, which doesn’t quite fit his style we’re more used to, where the Spaniard often extends points. Hey, I get it — keep the points, games, sets and matches short. But that’s not Rafa ball, especially on hard court.

Honestly, his form looked pretty manic when I first saw it, points lasting about 3-6 shots, on his opponent’s serve, about 2-3 shots on his serve. He’s blistering the ball and hitting angles which we know of Rafa, but these are practically winners. The opponent is absolutely on the run, back to Nadal, desperately trying to dig-out these lasers. The ball coming back is a weak defense, lofted and the Spaniard is there at the net. Nothing really middle of the court. Once he has the leverage in a rally, it’s over.

And his serve is pretty much untouchable. What is this?

Some highlights from Stefanos’ post-match interview (full interview below):

“Honestly, I have no idea what I can take from that match”

“It felt like a different dimension of tennis completely”

“He gives you no rhythm. He plays just a different game style than the rest of the players. He has this talent that no other player has. I’ve never seen a player have this. He makes you play bad. I don’t know, I would call that a talent.”

Granted, Rafa last night was really ridiculous. FH, BH, volleying, the serve efficiency, the zero chance his opponent gets to find any rhythm or momentum.

When asked, Tsitsipas said the last time he felt like that was 2nd round Paris Masters . . . where he lost like that; he practiced with Rafa the day before his 2nd round match against Dzhumur, losing that match 3 and 3.

Rafa casts a spell.

This AO form is like his clay invincibility. Guys have virtually no chance.

Why did it take him until he was 32 to develop this kind of strategy, form? It’s nuts.

Even Rafa says he’s surprised to be playing like this. Part has to be the lay-off; he hadn’t played since his loss to Del Potro at the USO back in September. He pulled-out of Brisbane a few weeks ago. Played a little expo tennis instead.

But this seems just weird. Not even his fangirls and boys understand this form.

I’ll take a stab at explaining this manifestation later. Of course I have theories.

And I’m not going to even mention the dark cloud he’s had to deal with throughout his career. No need to go there since that’s just hot air, really. But you can see why some would go there, with the likes of this annihilation every (even underwhelming) opponent in his draw.

Which brings us to tonight. You know that the only being in the universe who can possibly break the spell Nadal has cast in Melbourne is the dark knight, the Nadal antidote. Novak plays a game that can frustrate and breakdown anyone, squeezing the life from their weakened racket, their undermined courage and their blemished class.

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We will see if Novak can even get by this ascendant Pouille. Heavens. Help us.

Novak in straights seems imperative for us to get a clean look at a possible genius Djokodal LIII. But can Novak even hang with this alien impersonation of Nadal?

Many many questions. Let’s get the first answered tonight.

I hate to root against Lucas Pouille. I wrote this during the 2016 US Open:

Looking ahead, potential match of the tourney (I hope): Pouille v Nadal in 4R, if they survive the third, which they should. I like Pouille’s game and he’s only 22 years old.

Then this a few days later:

The match of the tournament, I mentioned earlier, will be Nadal v Pouille. Check my blog and watch the match. I don’t even watch this stuff and know that’s the match. Pouille is coming off a tough five-setter, but I like the 22 year-old to give Fraudal a solid 4R contest. Nadal looks pretty good, I guess, but he hasn’t played a soul.

I simply like this guy’s game. Amélie Mauresmo is in his box now. What a great outcome for that camp regardless of tonight’s result.

But we need Novak to face this “unplayable” Rafa.

We’ll leave it at that. Enjoy the match.

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