While there are still tournaments to play and points to be won after the final Grand Slam of the year, Rafael Nadal will look back at the 2015 tennis season and hardly find a single thing to feel good about following his third round exit against Fabio Fognini.
We’re in the first week of September, and Nadal has three tournament wins. None of them in a Masters tournament. He has two quarterfinals in the Grand Slam tournaments (Australian and French, only his second loss in Paris since his career began), a second round loss in Wimbledon and now another early exit in Queens.
Nadal didn’t just lose to Fognini. He set a precedent by winning the first two sets and losing the next three. Nadal has won a Grand Slam title in each of the previous 10 seasons at least once. But 2015, despite not missing any of the big ones, Nadal looked slower and despite what he says after some of the matches, an inferior version to his past, dominant self.
Where to from here? As long as Nadal is healthy, nothing is going to change. The same tournaments, the same goals. To move up from being 8th in the world and try to once again become part of the elite. It’s weird to see Nadal so fragile and vulnerable. While he said he was pleased with how he played, it’s hard not to notice how difficult it is for him to reach certain shots he usually defended and reacted to automatically in the past.
As for his place in history? Nadal has made comebacks from injuries before. He missed the US Open in 2012 and 2014, but won it in 2013, in 2010 and played in the 2011 final. His record at the Roland Garros is known to all, with nine titles from 2005 to 2014. His hopes at Wimbledon might be over, not making it past the fourth round in his last four attempts. He has just one title in Melbourne, but he did make the final in 2014 and 2012.
Nadal won’t be considered greater than Roger Federer, for example, without matching his Grand Slam title mark. Not winning any Grand Slam tournament back to back besides the French Open is also something that hurts his place on the all-time rankings. Having just one year with three Slams won, and only three seasons with two at least, also doesn’t help in comparison to Federer and a few others. There’s also Novak Djokovic, ruthlessly dominating the tour unless he has a final against Stanislas Wawrinka to play.
And there’s this year. A season Federer never had, but seemed expected from Nadal once we saw his form in Australia and later in Masters and other Grand Slam tournaments. It might not be wise to say “it’s over” about him and a nice continuity without any breaks will get him back to a place where he’s good enough to challenge for titles, but right now, it looks like we’ve seen the last of Nadal making headlines in Grand Slam tournaments.