Rafa Nadal’s decline has not been exaggerated. Injuries and inconsistent play meant that Nadal fell out of the top 10 last year and also that he had failed to reach even the semi-final of a Grand Slam over the last 10. At the age of 30 it was easy to see how the most physical player of his generation was losing a step. The last week-and-a-half, however, have shown us that he may have a lot more left than we previously thought.
After last nights straight sets beat down of the number three seeded Milos Raonic, Rafa Nadal is into the semi-final of the Australian Open. He avenges his loss to Raonic in Brisbane, which was less than a month ago, and reaches his first semi-final in Melbourne since 2014. Raonic was arguably his biggest test of the tournament, but beating the likes of Gael Monfils and Alex Zverev had to give him confidence that he could win this match against the higher ranked opponent as well.
From the word go Nadal was on the front foot against Raonic. As you can see in the video below he was playing well within the baseline and taking the match to his opponent. Raonic took far too long to settle into the match and by the time he had, the first set was already gone. In the second set, however, Raonic had his openings, seeing three set points for that matter on Nadal’s serve at 5-4, but failed to convert, eventually losing the set in a tie break. Ranoic came to net consistently throughout the match, and he consistently failed to win points, only converting on about 50% of his chances. Nadal hit pinpoint passing shots or lobs throughout that Ranoic simply couldn’t deal with. Nadal kept his foot on the pedal on the third playing uncharacteristically aggressive tennis against his hard hitting opponent. It worked wonders.
While Nadal still moves extremely well on the court he isn’t the same machine he was in his younger years. He will still reach a ball you didn’t think possible and backpedal around a forehand and slap a cross court winner, but it was important for him to be the one to dictate the match. He moved Raonic around the court with guile that comes with over a decade of experience.
His next opponent, the fifteenth seeded Grigor Dimitrov, is having a renaissance of his own so it will be interesting to see which player is more hunger to get to the final. Dimitrov has already beaten Nadal earlier this year, but so had Raonic and you saw how that played out. Expect Nadal to have the winning formula this time around.