Rafael Nadal, top tennis star and heartthrob to females around the globe, has slipped to the No. 2 ranking since struggling in recent weeks.
Even with obstacles in his path, Nadal has been known to persevere and push on despite signs telling him otherwise.
Hard work and skill won him the elusive No. 1 designation between August 2008 and July 2009. After relinquishing the crown two years ago, he persisted, inching closer towards his goal, finally doing so upon winning his fifth French Open title in June 2010.
Nadal was king of the mountain once again, finally relinquishing the coveted ranking to Djokovic only three months ago.
Since then, the tennis rock star hasn’t quite been himself, unable to overcome Djokovic most recently at the U.S. Open, and now having just lost to Andy Murray at the Rakuten Japan Open, 3-6, 6-2 and 6-0.
Circumstances and prognostications, however, are not as bleak for Nadal as some tennis pundits would have you believe. With just a few minor tweaks, he can regain the pole spot for a third time.
Change No. 5: Heal the Foot Injury
As many are aware of, the 25-year-old sensation has been playing through not only the usual assortment of tennis-associated knickknacks but has been plagued by a foot injury in recent months.
Tennis, obviously, requires one to be nimble on his or her feet, able to switch positions, lean on one knee versus the other, rotate the body at a moment’s notice and accelerate or come to a grinding halt depending on the velocity and trajectory of the ball.
If his foot injury is not remedied, Nadal, like many athletes before him, is likely to overcompensate his weight on his other leg, eventually injuring the opposite side of his frame.
As inspiring as a warrior he’s been, adamant about trudging on in spite of his ailments, perhaps the best decision Nadal can make is to retreat, at least for a while.
There would be no shame in it.
Change No. 4: Get Some Much-Needed Rest
Many fans take one look at Nadal’s impressive physique and assume his conditioning is top-notch.
Be that as it may, tennis is as just a physical game as it is a mental one.
In many ways it’s chess between real-life people instead of miniature pieces, played on a much larger scale.
The incessant traveling, media commitments, personal life, charitable work, training, preparing for matches and then playing in them have taken an observable huge toll on Nadal.
For instance, just one month ago, he collapsed during a press conference after defeating David Nalbanian. Rafael played the incident down, citing leg cramps and soreness as the cause, but it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure his words are understated, emanating from foolhardy pride.
It is absolutely imperative that Nadal takes a few months off to not only heal his injuries, but refresh his mind, which has been ravaged by so many responsibilities and setbacks.
By decompressing his inner thoughts, Nadal can return stronger than ever.
Change No. 3: Spend Less Time Doing Unneeded Extracurricular Activities
A short while ago, Rafael Nadal released his autobiography, entitled Rafa.
I have refused to read it on principle.
Granted, Nadal may have lived more, at his age, than most do in a lifetime, but his journey is still far from completed.
I understand he has managers to please, a publisher to satisfy and media obligations to meet, being the big star he is, but he needs to stop and ask himself what his foremost priority is.
Is it being a tennis player or a celebrity?
If it’s the former, Nadal needs to curtail some of the extra-curricular activities, like making magazine covers (unrelated to tennis), talk shows and writing a premature ledger of his life.
These activities are motivated by money and exposure, which Nadal already enjoys in ample quantities.
His main priority should be to get back to being No. 1 again, which would require him to change his daily routine and usual way of doing things.
Change No. 2: Spend More Time Preparing for His Opponents
More video tape and fewer excursions
Sometimes when there’s an insurmountable feat in one’s way, he or she must make sacrifices and more or less re-prioritize agenda.
At this point, Djokovic has Nadal’s number, taunting the 25-year-old at every turn, having firmly planted his superiority in the struggling tennis star’s mind.
Anyone who has battled fatigue but continued to push himself anyway will note that actions become almost mechanical, losing any organic flow they may have had.
There is no more sharpness, no effortlessness of motion and a dearth of acute forethought prior to making snap judgments, which is especially apropos of tennis.
Nadal needs to recline himself in a chair, take out the notepad and carefully examine his opponents with an eagle eye, with shark-like precision, preying on their movements as long as necessary in order to uncover any and all vulnerabilities.
That being said, the weaknesses Nadal does pinpoint should be ones his game is fit to capitalize on. In other words, he needs to temper his yin to take on his competitors’ yangs.
To state it in different terms, Nadal needs to adopt Kobe Bryant’s mentality when it comes to dissecting his challengers
Change No. 1: Stay Hungry
The great ones are anomalies in their chosen sport.
They have to be as the competition is, as fierce as they come.
The best of the best battle it out, many with similar physical tools, but the one factor that separates the great from the greatest comes down to simply staying hungry.
Is Nadal, with all his affluence and glory, satisfied having been No. 1 for nearly two years?
Does it really bother him that he’s only No. 2 in the world?
After all, he has everything he ever wanted, won nearly every accolade and has a seemingly fulfilling family.
Complacency is an athlete’s biggest deterrent to accomplishing more. It takes an almost egocentric, manic perseverance to not be satiated with being No. 2.
Kobe Bryant, whose name was mentioned earlier, is the epitome of a man who plays his sport not for the money or the fame but for the pursuit of excellence without any equal.
Does Nadal want the No. 1 ranking bad enough to go that extra mile, which might require him to not only locate his limits but shatter them?
If so, he must stop and self-analyze before self-actualizing the reality of being No. 1 again