The Tennis Phile

January 23, 2010 7:55 PM

Nadal Makes Necessary Adjustments

3986508.jpg Over the course of his career Rafael Nadal has been nothing if not a quick study as his stellar play on all playing surfaces attests. And after a sub-par effort in Melbourne on  Friday that saw him regress to bad habits by allowing his tentative side of his nature to emerge, Nadal righted his course today when he defeated the always dangerous Ivo Karlovic in four sets in their round of 16 encounter.

Almost as if to prove he reads and takes to heart what writers and commentators say about him, the Spaniard accessed his aggressive instincts by moving much closer to the baseline on returns and hitting his backhand with greater authority and precision. Having to take on the powerful Karlovic serve is actually superb preparation for future matches in the tournament. It gives Nadal a chance to tighten up his return game and it forced him to shorten up his back swing and not rely solely on his vicious topspin.  And even more importantly, Nadal continues to prove that he indeed has overcome the career-threatening knee tendonitis that beset him in 2009 as he scampered and slid around the hard court as if it were his beloved clay.

Now that the script that is a Grand Slam draw has been followed to the letter,  Nadal and Scotsman Andy Murray will be fulfilling their appointed date in the quarterfinals. The talented and moody Murray, who many expected would already be the owner of a Slam title by now, dispatched American John Isner is relatively easy fashion today. But Murray will soon by 23 and if he doesn't triumph at a Slam this year, the whispers that he's been overrated will turn to screams. Though he has a vastly different style than Nadal, Murray is prone to withdrawing in big matches and reverting to a retrieving, defensive stance. It is imperative he not do that against Nadal. Their encounter on Tuesday night (or very, very late Gotham time on Monday night/Tuesday morning) should be fascinating.

... and speaking of the draw, it's a shame that Nadal, Murray, Del Potro and Roddick are all in the same half. Whereas Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic have little competition on the other side.   

Notes: Dick Enberg has been one of the most versatile and pleasant sports broadcasters over the last 30 years. But his irritating and just plain wrong of way of pronouncing Nadal's name - he constantly refers to the Spaniard as "Nuhdahl" - is tiresome. I hope the powers that be at ESPN either bar Enberg from announcing any future Nadal match or hire a  diction coach to help soothe our ears. 

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