Rafael Nadal admits ‘I need more confidence’ after following Berdych, Kyrgios out of Shanghai

Rafael Nadal lost in the second round of the Shanghai Masters and accepts he has plenty of work to do

The Shanghai Rolex Masters will see the three top ranked men in tennis among the players competing for a quarter-final place come Thursday: No1 Novak Djokovic, No2 Andy Murray, and No3 Stan Wawrinka.

All made seamless progress in their opening matches without dropping a set, nor even being pushed to a tie-break. Little wonder, given that these three have won this year’s four Grand Slam titles between them, and that Murray and Djokovic have won five of the last six titles in the glamorous Chinese city.

But elsewhere, there were shocks aplenty as big names tumbled. In the top half of the draw in particular, just three seeds make up the last eight, as everywhere hopes of World Tour Final qualification took a beating.

Tomas Berdych, ranked No9 in the Race, lost a chance to close the gap on an absent Dominic Thiem and leaves himself vulnerable to a chasing David Goffin, Lucas Pouille and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. All three are fewer than a 1,000 points behind, with Shanghai and the Paris Masters still up for grabs, along with a couple of 500s in between. Berdych, who also lost his opener in Tokyo last week, fell to Marcel Granollers, ranked 43, in two tie-breaks.

Nick Kyrgios, the youngest of the London hopefuls in the top 16, won his first 500 in Tokyo last week—his third title of the year—but here, as last year, he showed little fondness for the tournament. Warned for lack of effort, and engaging in arguments with umpire and fans along the way, he was detained by qualifier and No110 ranked Mischa Zverev for just 48 minutes.

The unseeded but resurgent Grigor Dimitrov, who beat Richard Gasquet in his opener, killed his chances of getting to London for the first time with a 7-5, 7-6 loss to Vasek Pospisil, whose ranking has slid to 131 after a tough year of only eight wins—until Shanghai. The Canadian’s wins over Ivo Karlovic and Dimitrov are his first back-to-back main-tour wins this year, but to score a third, he will have to beat Djokovic.

And then there was Nadal, who was anxious to compensate for an uncharacteristically wayward performance in losing to Dimitrov in the quarters of Beijing last week.

The Spanish star has qualified for the World Tour Finals every year since 2005, has made the final twice and the semis three times. In short, it is a rare year in which he has failed to qualify already by this stage of the year. But he has suffered a rough season since it took a nosedive on the clay of the French Open where Nadal was forced to withdraw after the second round with a wrist injury.

On his return, a run to the semis at the Rio Olympics may have boosted his confidence but it yielded no points, and relatively early exits in Cincinnati, the US Open and Beijing left him still at No7 in the Race with only three places left.

Shanghai already offered up a tough draw—Marin Cilic, Tsonga, and Djokovic among the seeds—but a half in which Nadal would have hoped to make a semi-final run, as he did last year. It was not to be.

For the first time in six meetings, the powerful No31 Viktor Troicki beat Nadal, and in straight sets, 6-3, 7-6. And not for the first time since Paris, one of the key topics at his press conferences was his confidence, or rather the lack of it.

“I need to be confident again, to play more matches and practise more.”

He then touched on how difficult he finds the closing months of the tour, especially once it moves indoors, as it now does through his scheduled Basel, Paris Masters, and—in theory—London. He has never won any of them, nor Shanghai.

“It’s a tough part of the season for me. Tournaments are difficult, surfaces are difficult for me, is a difficult part of the year, historically. This year after injury, it has been tougher, but I am trying.”

He went on: “I need to keep working, to adjust things, and I need to be confident again. I need to play more matches, to practise more—keep playing.”

But pressed about qualifying for the World Tour Finals, he revealed some uncertainty about the shape of the rest of the season.

“I don’t know what’s going to happen next couple of weeks: something I need to think about. Cannot say now what I’m going to do during next month. Not sure about my calendar, about the things I need to do to try to be 100 percent ready for next year.

“I need to speak with my team and my uncle, and prepare myself a calendar to work on the things I need to work on. Sometimes keeping on competing is not the solution. Sometimes the solution is practice, and to have a process of training. Maybe that’s an opportunity to do it.

“I am not sure about that. Maybe I am playing in Basel in two weeks, so is not the moment to analyse this kind of thing. Let’s see when I talk to my coach.”

His comments about his forehand—one of the most famed shots in the Nadal armoury for its weight, spin and placement—were also revealing. Certainly at key moments in his match against Troicki, his bread-and-butter shot was vulnerable: He netted a forehand half a dozen times in the latter stages, turning instead to his improved serve and net-play to stay in touch.

And when a player cannot depend on his core shot, it is little wonder that his confidence becomes shaky: “I need to recover the forehand, I need to hit forehands.

“Every time I hit forehands, I need to create pain for my opponent, and that is not happening today. Maybe because I had an injury on my wrist and I am scared, maybe because there is still a limitation on it…[but] I need to be more confident with the forehand.”

He is indeed scheduled for Basel, where his indoor nemesis, Roger Federer, who has won his home title seven times from 12 finals, is absent with injury—and Nadal did reach the final there last year. And he can, with just a few match-wins, qualify for London. The question is, will he try, or will he draw a line to prepare for next year?

In the bottom half of the draw, Murray’s showed no lack of confidence in a 6-3, 6-2 win over Steve Johnson. He next plays 22-year-old Pouille, one of the biggest improvers of the season, who has beaten two Spaniards in Fernando Verdasco and Nicolas Almagro.

Wawrinka beat British qualifier Kyle Edmund, 6-3, 6-4, and will take on dangerous Frenchman Gilles Simon, unseeded but a man who has made the season finale himself, in 2008.

Race to London

Qualified
1 Novak Djokovic
2 Andy Murray
3 Stan Wawrinka
4 Milos Raonic
5 Kei Nishikori

Chasing pack
6 Gael Monfils
7 Rafael Nadal
8 Dominic Thiem

9 Tomas Berdych
10 Marin Cilic
11 David Goffin
12 Nick Kyrgios
[Roger Federer has finished season]
13 Lucas Pouille
14 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
15 Grigor Dimitrov
16 Roberto Bautista Agut
17 Pablo Cuevas
18 Alexander Zverev

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