Rafael Nadal has suffered another early defeat in his Clay court campaign in the lead up to the French Open. The world no. 1, who was on a 41 match winning streak at the ATP 500 event Barcelona, lost 2-6, 7-6 (5), 6-4 to countryman Nicholas Almagro.
Nadal had not lost in Barcelona in 11 years. And he had not lost to Amalgro in ten previous meetings. But on the eleventh time of asking, Amalgro came up with the goods to knock Nadal out of his home tournament.
It certainly did not look like a shock was on the cards as Nadal took the first set 6-2. The world no 1’s form seemed to have improved in his previous match as he beat Ivan Dodig 6-3, 6-3, and, as he won his 44th consecutive set in Barcelona, it looked like he was getting back to his old self.
Amalgro hung in there, staying with Nadal in the second set to take it to a tie-breaker. Close to the finish line, Nadal led 3-1. But Amalgro did not give up, got back the mini-break and took the tie-break 7-5.
The third set was as tense as they get for Nadal in Barcelona. At 3-3, Amalgro broke the defending champion. Nadal broke back, but Amalgro took his chances at 4-4 to get what would prove to be a decisive break.
Serving for the match, Amalgro faced two break points at 15-40. He saved them, but not without some help from Nadal who, on his second break point, took on a short ball only to hit a forehand into the net. Amalgro then earned his first match point but failed to convert it as his backhand down the line went long. Amalgro then saved another break point before holding his second match point. This time a forehand winner down the line sealed a remarkable win for Amalgro, the perfect revenge for his defeat at Nadal’s hands in last year’s Barcelona final.
The defeat comes on the back of Nadal’s loss to Ferrer last week in Monte Carlo. Questions will now be raised as to whether or not Nadal can recover from these defeats in time to defend his French Open title. In each year he has won at Roland Garros he has started the Clay court season with a confidence boosting win in either Monte Carlo or Barcelona.
The world no. 1 has already stated that he is suffering from a lack of confidence and these defeats can only hurt him even more. The Spaniard is, quite simply, not used to being bettered on Clay by anyone, let alone his countrymen. And while Ferrer and Amalgro are both accomplished Clay court players, that will not come as any comfort to Nadal.
Especially not this season. While things started out well enough, winning the title in Doha, Nadal’s loss to Wawrinka in the Australian Open final was unexpected, and the back injury he picked up in that match was another setback. Though Nadal won another title in Acapulco, beating Dolgopolov in the final, he then lost to the same player in the third round of Indian Wells.
Matters got worse a couple of weeks later when his main rival Novak Djokovic beat him 6-3, 6-3 in the Sony Open final. That comprehensive defeat exposed many of Nadal’s weaknesses and may have been the final blow to the Spaniard’s already shaky confidence.
Nadal now has titles in Rome and Madrid to defend. He will still go into them as the favorite but his opponents will certainly fancy their chances a lot more now that he has suffered these Clay court defeats. How Nadal responds is going to be a feature of many a tennis conversation in the upcoming weeks, but one thing Nadal and tennis fans are guaranteed is that he will come back with nothing less than the fighting spirit that has made him one of the greatest players of all time.
Commentary by Christian Deverille