By Caleb Pereira
Trigger Warning: profanity, satirical insults directed at players
Rafael Nadal, the GOAT in male singles tennis, has recently spoken about how the scaphoid bone in his foot is fractured—like, CLEAN SPLIT, none of that surfrace fracture bullshit.
If you’re familiar with how the Spaniard has adjusted his playing style over the last decade, you will, perhaps, understand how his once-fleet-footed, cement-screeching forays, on and outside the court’s tramlines, quickly dissipated into the late 2010s.
As he stayed put within 3 slams of Federer’s record, we saw no more of this:
Even on clay, he gives precious few examples of the open-stance defence he was once heralded for:
And here we are—we are in Melbourne, 2022.
The Balearic lightning is now almost at a standstill.
Well, to be fair, we did enjoy this on 21/01/22, vs. Khachanov:
But, as you can see, even the diehard Nadal-fan-tweeter is acutely aware of how rare these end-of-the-range shots are now, when, before, they were as common as umpire-abuses out of Kyrgios’ mouth during a John Cain Arena match.
The point being: Nadal knows that the atrophied bones and tendons in his knees and feet have rendered him into a grumpy Arsene-Wenger-esque grandma on ice compared to what he was.
He knows that big-swinging youngsters like Shapovalov not only have the sustained power to hit him off the court without suffering the anxiety of his looming and zooming defensive wizardry, but can also defend better than he can.
Yes, Shapovalov, a guy whom you would normally not associate with giving a shit about defence, now defends better than the Spaniard who was once the greatest defender the world had seen.
In my opinion, Nadal doesn’t go in as the favorite.
Shapovalov’s groundstrokes are more incisive than his.
The islander minotaur used to trap unsuspecting victims in a parabolic, three-dimensional labyrinth of sidespinning and topspinning forehands and backhands, giving them the false hope of escape with his predictable crosscourt repetition, but whose precision was always so clutch, they were only reduced to spectators pulled from one side to the other, until they gave up, slowed down to a trot, to be willingly butchered by his ax.
Precision cloaked his predictability in unpredictable colors. You knew it was coming, but you couldn’t do anything about it. The bends, corners, and lines of his tennis—that looked the same everywhere, detailed down to the inch—only sought to confuse you further as you tried to escape.
However, as his mental comfort waned in tandem with how his knees could no longer keep up with the persistent baseline style he passed onto Djokovic and Murray (and now Zverev and Medvedev), the pressure to keep up his sideline-licking ball trajectories built inside him, and he could no longer sustain those lengthy, 10-plus-shot-rally labyrinths.
He had to find ways to end the point before his juniors wore him down.
He lost his clutch gene. After going 14-5 in major finals until 2014.
Nadal is now closer to Shapovalov’s playing style than his younger self’s. Nadal has been forced to bastardize himself, dirty himself with a playing philosophy far removed from the “high percentage” approach of his early years. Privately, he has to lower himself to Shapovalov’s—what many think—braindead game of high-risk tennis.
And he is only going to be second-best at that game today.
As Shapovalov takes a 2-1 lead three hours into the match, there is only one thing that might turn the tide, as the fishing-enthusiast ruminates over lost ways to bait his opponent.
As a Nadal fan, I don’t know what he can do to overcome his matchup disadvantages.
So, in my opinion, he will have to do something un-Rafa-like.
During the post-set break, Rafa will need to kick over those two bottles that lie near his chair, demand a mic from the nearest official, and rap as only he can, to destabilize his Canadian opponent as Daniil Medvedev tried to destabilize Maxime Cressy yesterday:
When yu win point, ay don’t layk your danjaros piercing screams.
They remind me
of hof naughty and hurtful pterodactyl kids keeds
Gliding over colm seas, their tantrums invading ancient fish
How do I know this, you dirty blondie of loud words and little deeds?
On my yacht, one day, I hear their fish-descendants say “We evolved no eyelids
Cos those flying hostia putas disturb our sleep singing like repressed
Then one happy day they go northwest and retire in recessed Canada.
We never hear from them again, Rafa, but sprinkle us some empanada.”
Listen, yu maple leaf paella, I no drinkid your local vocal
And anyway your decibel games got notheeng on Dutra-Silva.
If you raise voice, I gonna chop you up and
feed fid you to mai pet barracuda.
I tell yo mamma, then she be screeching like naked Nishikori in a Hitchcockian Psycho
Evarybaady knows you a trigger-happy gangster minor who knows not his own power.
Evarybaady knows I’m a tripper-upper of kings and queens; cabron, I’m Jack Bauer.
Take dee hands off the gun, boy, you just a Budget Boom-Boom Becker
Thumping Penn balls like thumping pylons as a crackpot woodpecker.
You pigeon-brained fool with shameless, albatross wingspans
Like the overswings of your forehands and jumping backhands.
Daft cowboy, you’re no hero, you only herd balls straight into outlands.
Also, your lasso-grip of
language langwij is as awful as Shin-chan’s.
When I first met you in bustling Montreal, you were a cute ballboy.
But your ascent since has been as slow as Kyrgios reading Tolstoy.
When I met you again, you beat me with a teenager’s raw joy.
Zero wins in 5 years since, dummy, despite my knees as rusted alloy.
You’re winning but it’s not because your technicals are scary.
The discipline of your lines are like the architecture of Frank Gehry.
I’m just too old; of your game, your young rivals aren’t seriously wary.
You’re just a spell-blasting, mana-wasting, semifinal-choking fairy.
Beat me, I don’t care—maach, thank you vairy.
Reverse psychology for the win, Nadal fans.