Rafael Nadal Struggling Early

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Rafael Nadal, if you remember or not, is the defending US Open champion. He certainly hasn’t looked like that any time he faced Novak Djokovic this year, and he wasn’t exactly cruising yesterday in his first round match facing Andrey Golubev, ranked 98th in the world. Nadal won, but far from convincingly.

So do we talk big picture or focus on the match itself? There’s no way of describing Golubev’s performance yesterday but gutsy. Nadal was having an off day, but it wasn’t all up to him. The Kazakh ran Nadal from side to side and produced 41 winners, 23 more than Nadal. He hit big and often. That was also his downfall, along with the fact Nadal kept waking up with his back to the wall.

His serve was broken six times. His serve was broken a total of five times during the entire 2010 US Open. He fell behind in each set. He was behind 3-5 in the second set with Golubev serving for the set. Golubev was serving for the set twice in the third, at 5-2 and 5-4. It didn’t help. In the second set it was that drop shot that Golubev thought bounced twice and Nadal managed to recover. I thought Golubev’s loss of focus and anger will be the end of him in the third. Wrong.

Nadal continued to sleep walk through the match, leaving his usual deep shots and those surprise switch backhands deep in his trick bag, pulling them out only when he was in real need. Bottom line? Nadal, despite the 3-0 win, didn’t impress, but is in the second round. One match at a time is the way to go, especially when you’re not in the best shape of your life.

The bigger picture? Every promo I see before the matches talks about revenge, showing pictures of Nadal and Djokovic. There’s no doubt that the beating Nadal has taken to his confidence and intimidation factor are still burned in his mind and his opponents. Nadal’s struggles were compared to the ease in which Djokovic cruised through the first round. Federer? He’s not in the picture, not really. The Roland Garros final seems to be the outstanding. It’s still a Nadal – Djokovic show, with Murray thrown in the mix as well. But Nadal doesn’t look good, and I’ll need to see more dedication and simply better tennis to actually believe he can win his second Grand Slam in 2011.