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By Chris Oddo | Monday, March 30, 2015

Watch out tennis, Rafael Nadal is now officially a man on a mission.

After the Spaniard’s disappointing North American hard court season ended with a three-set loss to Fernando Verdasco in third-round action on Sunday in Miami, the 14-time major champion says his game is fine. It’s his nerves that need work.

More: Verdasco Stuns Nadal in Miami

“It's not the question of tennis,” Nadal told reporters on Sunday. “The thing is the question of being relaxed enough to play well on court."

Nadal expressed disappointment with his performance under pressure after his loss to Milos Raonic at Indian Wells, and after his second consecutive loss to Fernando Verdasco, he’s convinced he’s discovered the root of his issues.

“Today my game in general improved since a month and a half [ago]. But at the same time, [I am] still playing with too much nerves for a lot of moments, in important moments, still playing with a little bit of anxious on those moments,” the world No. 3 admitted. “I have been able to be under control, control my emotions during, let's say, 90, 95 percent of my matches of my career, something that today is being tougher to be under self control.”

It’s rare to see any athlete openly discussing such a vulnerability, but with Nadal, who is arguably one of the most mentally tough players in the game, it’s doubly strange. For years, we’ve taken for granted that the Spaniard, when pushed, would be able to dial in his shaman-like focus to retain his grip on big matches.

But Nadal cited several instances during his loss to Verdasco where he lacked confidence and allowed pills of self-belief to snowball and impact full games. “I am not saying that didn't happen in the past because [it] happened,” Nadal said, “but happened for a very small [period] for one point, two points. It happened, and then I'm able to say, ‘Okay, I am here.’”

Still, Nadal remains undaunted by the challenge, and judging from the tone of his post-match interview he seems eager—almost excited—to conquer the challenge. We’ve seen Nadal overcome obstacles with his trademark determination in the past, though the obstacles were typically more physical than mental. Will this be the same? Is this simply another moment where Nadal, frustrated in the early phases of a comeback, harnesses all his desire into one Tasmanian Devil-esque focus that will eventually wreak havoc on the rest of the tour? Who in their right mind would bet against it?

“I'm trying to be honest,” Nadal reiterated. “I am saying the things that I feel today. But at the same time, I tell you that I have been able to able to change a lot of situations, a lot of negative situations in my career, and I want to do it again. I’m going to work to do it again. I am confident that I can do it. I don't know if I [will] do it, but I hope I can.”

 

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