World No. 2 Rafael Nadal is used to tallying titles rather than losses on clay. But to the Spaniard, leaving the Mutua Madrid Open after a semi-final loss to Stefanos Tsitsipas is normal, even if he has yet to lift a trophy this season, the longest it has taken him to triumph in a season since 2004.
“I think that it’s more normal what is happening right now, than what happened in the past 14 years,” Nadal said. “I think I have tennis ahead of me. I have time ahead of me. I’ll be able to try to win this kind of tournament that I was not able to win this year. And what I have to do is to be fit and to play properly and a high tennis level.
“If I manage to do that next year, I think I will still have a very good opportunity to fight for all of these titles and for the rest of the year, I still have two [clay-court] tournaments. And we will see what happens there.”
It’s not that Nadal has not played well. The 32-year-old has made the semi-finals or better at five of his six tournaments this year, and he owns a 20-5 record on the season. But especially on clay, Nadal has set a precedent of domination, earning multiple clay-court titles every year since 2005.
“Tennis is about winning or losing. I have been able to win a lot for a lot of years on this surface. And this year, it seems that’s not the way and I am really close to it, but not managing to win,” Nadal said. “You just have to accept it and I have to accept it naturally. But to accept things does not mean to try to change things.
“But during all my life, I think I have taken the victories very naturally and with a lot of normality. With the losses I’ll do the same. It will be normal and I’m going to accept it naturally.”
Nadal does not want to read too much into possible reasons for not being able to close out tournaments in 2019. In his mind, he simply lost, and wants to move forward the best he can.
“We can try and find as many excuses, or ifs, or possibilities, or whys, but at the end, it’s a matter of playing good tennis and if you play at a good level, I think I would have been able to win today’s match,” Nadal said. “I wasn’t able to play as good as I wanted to play. So, the consequence is that I was not able to win the match.”
If for no other reason, this loss stings because Nadal was unable to triumph in front of his home fans at the Caja Magica, the home of the lone ATP Masters 1000 tournament in Spain.
“It’s a defeat. It’s a lost possibility to be able to play a final in an important tournament for me, a lovely tournament. I’ve lost that opportunity,” Nadal said. “It just means that I’m not going to be playing a match tomorrow, another day in front of all of these great people who come here to support me. And what they give me, it is impossible to describe and thank them enough.”
Nadal believes that he was not striking his groundstrokes deep enough in the court, and he did not punish mid-court forehands to the best of his ability. As the Spaniard said, “I was not able to create [for] him the feeling that he was going to suffer when I was hitting the forehand.” That allowed Tsitsipas to exert his own gameplan against the second seed.
“Being honest, my feeling is it was more about me tonight. He is young, he is improving and he has good talent. But I don’t see myself losing that match if I play the same level that I played in Barcelona 2018 final, or in Australia at the beginning of the season. That’s my feeling,” Nadal said. “Maybe it’s not the truth, but that is my feeling.”