Rafa held to a deservingly stratospheric standard

Few players have had to endure as much criticism on their way to reaching a Grand Slam quarterfinal as Rafael Nadal over the past week-and-a-half.

Rafael Nadal 311 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Rafael Nadal 311
(photo credit: REUTERS)
PARIS – Few players have had to endure as much criticism on their way to reaching a Grand Slam quarterfinal as has Rafael Nadal over the past week-and-a-half.
If you walked into one of the world No. 1’s press conferences during this year’s French Open you wouldn’t be blamed for thinking that he had actually suffered a shock early exit rather than cruised past another quality opponent.
Nadal has time and again been interrogated on his “disappointing play,” “mediocre performances” and “unconvincing victories,” all the while reaching the last eight at Roland Garros with three consecutive straight-set victories.
Nadal is the first to admit that he isn’t playing as well as he had hoped, but even the level-headed Spaniard is beginning to grow frustrated with facing unrealistic expectations.
“All the day we are talking about I am playing very bad, but I am in quarterfinals,” Nadal said after his 7-5, 6-3, 6-3 fourth round win over Ivan Ljubicic.
“I play six finals in a row this year. I am having a very good year. One player is doing better than me. That’s all. But I’m in good position to finish the year in a very high position of the ranking.
“It’s true I am not playing that well. But I am in quarterfinals another time, and I going to fight to play a better match next time. Sometimes it’s much more important to win when you are not playing that well than win when you are playing well. Win when you are not playing that well is the more difficult thing. Only the top players can do that.”
Despite Nadal’s five Roland Garros titles in the past six years and a 38-1 career record on the Parisian clay, the streaking Novak Djokovic is currently the oddsmakers’ favorite to lift the Coupe des Mousquetaires.
Nadal understands that in many people’s eyes the Serbian has overtaken him as the world’s best player, but believes that the current doom and gloom regarding his game is much exaggerated.
“People talk a lot about the problems I have. That’s true. I’m not playing my best tennis, but, you know, people who want to find problems can always find them,” Nadal said.
“The objective is to look beyond that.
“It’s a good thing I have reached the quarterfinals. If I play that bad, I don’t see why I would have reached the quarterfinals. The problem is you can’t always play your best tennis. That’s the problem. I have been ranked No.
1 and No. 2 for seven years. So week in, week out for seven years I’ve been playing rather well.
“I will continue and fight until I reach the finals. I don’t know if I’ll succeed, though, but I’ll do my best to do this.”
Perhaps it is his two straight defeats to Djokovic in the recent finals of the clay tournaments at Madrid and Rome that have shaken his confidence.
Whatever the reason, clearly lastyear’s dominant Nadal has only appeared briefly in the first four rounds of the 2011 French Open.
However, he has still made his way through to the quarterfinals with little trouble and is eager to prove his doubters wrong over the next five days, starting with Wednesday’s clash against the only man to have ever beaten him at Roland Garros, Robin Soderling.
“I am not confident. I am not playing enough well to win this tournament at the moment,” Nadal said.
“But I’ve won five times already here and I’m going to try for sure.
“If you are not optimistic, you are never going to find the solution. The important thing is to keep positive and have an open enough mind to keep finding solutions and to keep fighting every day to find a better performance.
“Soderling is an incredible, allaround player. It’s going to be a hard match. I will have to play really [well]. I will have to live up to my own expectations.
“I’ve managed to play good tennis in the past, so I’ll have to be optimistic. I think I can do the same again.”
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