A pale Rafael, failing without fail!

While Novak Djokovic is playing like a man from another planet, Rafael Nadal seems to be playing from memory. Lying on the surgeons’ table frequently has taken a toll on his body and, more importantly, mind. Injuries can finish off careers, but in the 29-year-old Spaniard’s case, they have teased and tormented him, making it difficult to decide either way — to continue or quit. The year gone by clearly showed that the climb back to the top will be anything but easy for him. Though Nadal finished in the top-5 for the 11th successive season, he failed to add to his Grand Slam collection (14) for the first time since 2004.The fighting qualities in Nadal have surfaced and vanished in almost equal measure, making him scrape through in matches he would have won at a canter, or lose from situations he never would have previously. Here are five recent losses the Spanish matador would want to erase from memory.

What's ailing Rafael Nadal? Listed below are five recent losses the Spanish matador would want to erase from memory.   -  AP

Opponent: Fernando Verdasco; Scoreline: 6-7(6), 6-4, 6-3, 6-7(4), 2-6; 2016 Australian Open first round (Nadal’s scores first).

It took Verdasco seven years and 14 attempts to solve the Nadal jigsaw, besting his countryman for the first time in the Madrid Masters in 2012.

There was a sub-plot to their Melbourne Park encounter this year. Verdasco, in his first-ever Grand Slam semi-final at the same venue in 2009, had finished on the wrong side of a gut-wrenching five-setter that lasted five hours and 14 minutes. The script almost followed the same pattern — the contest going the distance and Nadal looking good with a 2-0 lead in the decider — but for the climax which went Verdasco’s way this time.

“I have thought many days, many times about that semi-final,” Verdasco told Jim Courier during the customary on-court interview. “I didn't really think I would have another five-set match against Rafa here in Australia. Winning against him, coming from two sets to one down, is an unbelievable feeling.”

The defeat marked Nadal’s maiden exit in the first round of the Australian Open, while the victory took Verdasco to 3-14 in the head-to-head — definitely healthier than the 0-13 at one stage!

Novak Djokovic; 1-6, 2-6; 2016 Qatar Open final

Djokovic beating Nadal is no longer news — the Serb has trumped the Spaniard in nine of their last 10 meetings without dropping a set — but the manner of defeat will rankle. It was all over in a little more than an hour with Djokovic playing “perfect” tennis, and Nadal too admitting it.

“I played against a player who did everything perfect. I know nobody playing like this ever. Since I know this sport, I never saw somebody playing at this level.”

The match showed the dizzy heights the Serb has reached, and also the widening chasm between the two. The win saw Djokovic nudge ahead 24-23, the first time he has overtaken Nadal in their long rivalry.

Fabio Fognini; 6-3, 6-4, 4-6, 3-6, 4-6; 2015 U.S. Open third round

Nadal had never lost a Grand Slam contest after winning the first two sets. His fantastic 151-match sequence of such triumphs looked all set to continue when he held a 3-1 advantage in the third against the 32nd-ranked Italian.

Realising that only an all-out attack could shift the momentum, Fognini started belting winners from all parts of the court, throwing the Spaniard off-balance and searching for answers. The fifth set witnessed seven successive breaks of serve before Fognini served out calmly.

The drama, which took three hours and 46 minutes to get over, was watched, among others, by golfer Tiger Woods. It unfolded on a Friday night and closed in the wee hours of Saturday, the electrifying exchanges keeping the fans on the edge of their seats.

Asked how his opponent was able to produce so many winners (Fognini had 70), Nadal replied, “Maybe I am slower.”

“An incredible match,” said Fognini. “We killed ourselves.”

Dustin Brown; 5-7, 6-3, 4-6, 4-6; 2015 Wimbledon second round

Playing on the Centre Court for the first time, the 102nd-ranked Brown decided to “freak out a bit” against an opponent he had blown away (6-4, 6-1) on the Halle grass the only previous time they met. The German serve-and-volleyer did precisely that, leaving Nadal bemused and bewildered.

After one of the “finest” sets ever seen at The Championships went to the German, the Spaniard clawed back in the second with some astonishing passes. However, ‘normalcy’ was soon restored and Brown went on to prevail in four sets.

It was the first time Nadal had lost to a qualifier at a Grand Slam though early round exits at Wimbledon were nothing new for him.

“My game doesn't let him play his game. He doesn't get into a rhythm. I am fortunate I played him twice on grass, which is my favourite surface — I wouldn't want to play him anywhere else,” said Brown.

The legendary John McEnroe gave a different spin to the reverse. “Rafa admitted publicly that he was struggling for confidence and maybe that has inspired players in the locker room. While honesty is the best policy, maybe it isn't here,” said the American.

Michael Berrer; 6-1, 3-6, 4-6; 2015 Qatar Open first round

The first match of a new season can always be tricky, but playing against someone ranked 127th in the world can make it a little easy. Having beaten Berrer for the loss of just four games in their two previous meetings, Nadal would have hoped for a perfect start to 2015.

Even a strong start by the Spaniard was not enough and it was the German who eased home in the next two sets. Nadal surrendered his Doha crown, the first of many he would go on to lose by the end of the year, including the ‘King of Clay’ status at Roland Garros where Djokovic dethroned him.

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