Making sense of Nadal's upset loss, eulogizing Juju's uneven comeback
It's tough. Every time he's lost recently, there does seem to be a theme of injury. And to his total credit, he seems sensitive to the issue. He can take the high road, but we can't. If you saw the match, it was clear there was an issue and I'm sure we'll hear about the MRIs and get the Jay Cutler report in due time. Any casual fan could tell this wasn't the Rafael Nadal of the first four rounds.
Ferrer played well. To his credit, he's ridiculously fit, which is the worst kind of opponent you want to play. If this were some hard-serving lunk, Nadal might have been able to grind it out. But when you're injured, Ferrer is probably the single worst opponent you could possibly play.
But having said that, Nadal's head-to-head record against Ferrer [11-3 entering Wednesday's match] was one-sided and Nadal's record against Spanish players in general is ridiculous. With both players at 100 percent, I think Ferrer wins that match one out of 20 times.
I don't think Ferrer can win, but any of the other three can. It's too bad because we almost had the top four players in the semis. (God bless Robin Soderling, but I think we all know who the top four are.) It's really too bad, because it would have been a dream pair of semifinals. My suspicion is whoever wins the Federer-Djokovic match wins the tournament. Obviously the last time they played in a Grand Slam semifinal, we know how that went [Djokovic beat Federer in the 2010 U.S. Open semis]. The shame of it is Nadal in the first four rounds looked as good as I've ever seen him.
The one plus is this is not a career-ending injury. Knees are problematic, shoulders are problematic, elbows are problematic. Muscle tears stink but you don't retire from them. If Federer defends his title, suddenly he's pushing 30 and he's still going. At least the plot rolls on. It makes the French Open that much more interesting. The reality show wins. But it's pretty disappointing for Nadal and tennis fans at large. If he's going to lose, fine; but you want to see him get beat and not compete clearly at 70 percent.
As much as Kim Clijsters' comeback has been a smashing success, Henin's has not been. The odds were good -- we're talking about a Hall of Famer, one of the really, really elite players of the last generation -- but you lose that step of quickness, you have some tweaking injuries, you lose a couple watts of power and it's pretty hard to play at the level you're used to. Some players you get a feeling come back in part because they miss the community and the lifestyle. Henin was there to win Grand Slams, and if she wasn't in a position to do that she had no interest in the traveling. She's enough of a realist to realize that you lose that tiny bit of power, that tiny bit of foot speed, suddenly it's going to be tough to win seven matches at a major.