In the Wake of An Upset
MONTREAL--For Rafael Nadal, the worst part was that he couldn't say he played the worst match of his life. Not even close.
Indeed, Nadal played fairly well and competed hard in his stunning loss to Ivan Dodig of Croatia at the Rogers Cup late Wednesday night, perhaps demonstrating that the difference between the very best players in the world and the next 50 isn't as large as you might imagine.
"Well, seriously I didn't felt that I played bad. But that's true. In the decisive moments, I didn't play well. That's the true," said Nadal after his three-set defeat, including a third-set tiebreak. "He played well. Little bit of everything. Little bit of long time without competition. Little bit of I started one week and a half ago playing tennis. He played very well, very aggressive. He didn't feel the pressure in the important moments. And at the end of the match, probably I was a little bit unlucky today, no?
"I felt I played enough well to win that match. But that's tennis."
The most remarkable feature of the thrilling match was that Nadal led 3-0 in the third set and then served for the match at 5-3, and lost. Very un-Nadal-like, possibly a by-product of his inactivity since suffering a foot injury at Wimbledon.
Still, the former world No. 1 showed some humour when asked about playing in such an "incredible" match.
"Well, for me wasn't that incredible," he said with a broad smile. "Was an emotional match and bad for me. Is not the first lose in my career when I had an advantage. That's happens. Not going to be last time for me. I have to accept these losses exactly the same like the victories and keep working.
"You know, the worst part on a loss like this is all the work that you did, that I did the last week. I arrived Thursday to prepare well the tournament. I arrived probably today being competitive. Lose a match like this when I didn't felt that I was playing bad. We talk about tennis. That's tough because you have to start another time right now.
"In the beginning, everything is hard because you think remain one week to play another time. Everything is hard. You cannot come back home, so you gonna be here.
"The beginning, everything is tough. But, you know, tomorrow day off. I didn't stop playing tennis for two weeks. I will have one day off tomorrow. Friday I will be in Cincinnati practicing. When I gonna start practicing there, I gonna try my best. I gonna try to thinking positive. I gonna try to think what worked well here, what didn't work well, and work on that. I'll work on be ready to play well in Cincinnati."
He said losing five finals in 2011, all to Novak Djokovic, is much more difficult to deal with than an upset defeat to a player like Dodig.
"You don't have to play well every week. You don't have to be all the time at your best. It's not an obligation win or be in the final every week. That's what I want to do all the time. That's what I try all the time. But is not possible, no?," he said.
"This year is been fantastic year for me with tough moments. Today probably is a tough one. But worst when you lose five finals. I lost five finals this year. I'm playing well. You know, after long time without strange lose, I lose today. Let's work hard to try don't to repeat that in Cincinnati."
Dodig, naturally, was elated by the triumph. He has had moments this year, taking a set off Djokovic at the Australian Open and beating both Robin Soderling and Milos Raonic on clay in Barcelona, but even he seemed surprised at how well he played.
Asked if he could believe he had upset Nadal, he said. "I cannot."
Dodig pounded 19 aces past Nadal and kept coming hard to the net all night, even in the third-set tiebreak when his aggressiveness paid off, particularly on match point when his spectacular cross-court backhand ended the contest.
"If I get some chance, some small chance, I have to be aggressive, I have to try to make point myself, otherwise I cannot beat a guy like Rafa waiting to him to make mistake," said Dodig.
"On match point, I think I did it. I make like a winner. I think that was the key of this match. I know it's very tough when you play these guys to be aggressive. Sometimes they doesn't allow you. But today I had some chances and I think I use it. I finish match by myself. I didn't wait for his mistakes."