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Nadal’s Next Step: Conquering Fear Factor

Biggest Difference in My Game


By Richard Pagliaro | @Tennis_Now | Thursday, May 9, 2024
One of the toughest opponents Rafael Nadal faces in this clay comeback isn’t between the lines.

It’s between the ears. 

More: Nadal Fights off Bergs in Rome Return 

A resilient Nadal rallied past tough Belgian qualifier Zizou Bergs 4-6, 6-3, 6-4 to reach the second round of his 20th Rome appearance.

Nadal held a 3-1 lead in all three sets only to see Burgs burst through five of the final six games to take a one-set lead.

Afterward, the 37-year-old Spanish superstar shared a major challenge in this comeback: overcoming fear factor.

The 10-time Rome champion conceded there are times he feels uneasy unloading on some shots over fear he could aggravate old injuries.

“I mean, I need to try to play at my hundred percent,” Nadal told the media in Rome. “Is not easy because I need to lose a little bit of fear that I have in some shots because, for example, in Brisbane I got a tear on the place that I had the surgery last year.

“Sometimes important surgery like I had, I had to remove an important part of my psoas tendon, put a lot of muscles around working more than before.”

The 14-time Grand Slam champion said last month in Madrid he’s a more “unpredictable” player these days.

That’s because Nadal himself doesn’t know how his body will respond match to match. In Barcelona and Madrid, Nadal did not consistently sting his first serve, proceeding with caution out of concern for aggravating an abdominal issue.

In that sense, Nadal says he’s learning on the job how his body will react to certain shots from various positions on court.

“I mean, it’s about having the right time to adapt all these muscles to this new configuration of the hip,” Nadal said. “But I don’t have that much time, no? That’s the problem and that’s the true.”

The former No. 1 conceded today’s win was “not a good match for me. I mean, I didn’t play the way that I really think I can play and I need to play.”

Nadal did show some flashes of his shotmaking brilliance and willingness to play the blockbuster strike. Nadal crushed a massive smash at one point, lasered a 106 mph forehand return down the line and cranked one of his three aces serving out the two hour, 53-minute win.

Still, Nadal summoned the warrior spirit and lives to fight another day knowing he’ll have to open up his shoulders against seventh-seeded Hubert Hurkacz in round two.

In round two, the king of clay aims to…

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