Last Updated: 30/03/15 5:44pm
Barry Cowan believes it is mental rather than technical or physical issues that led to both Rafa Nadal and Stan Wawrinka exiting the Miami Open at the third round stage.
Nadal was beaten by fellow Spaniard Fernando Verdasco in three sets (6-4 2-6 6-3) while Wawrinka lost in straight sets (7-6 (7-4) 7-6 (7-5)) to Frenchman Adrian Mannarino.
For Nadal, in particular, the surprise exit is a disappointment, coming just as he appeared to be returning to somewhere close to his best form, according to Cowan.
“It was very surprising because what I felt in Indian Wells was that actually his level was improving,” he told Sky Sports. “I thought his level was pretty high, he had three match points before losing to (Milos) Raonic.
“Raonic actually played well on two of them but what struck a chord then was that when it got really tight in the tie break, normally in the past when the pressure is on Rafa comes out and plays aggressively with his back to the wall but this time he didn’t.
“Verdasco is not the same player that he was and hasn’t been a top 10 player for over a year but after a promising start for Nadal – he had break point at 3-3 – he missed a forehand and one shot just seemed to affect him. That is happening more and more.
“Then Verdasco was all over the place at the beginning of the third set, he had the yips on the serve again but Nadal didn’t break and, again in the third set, where in the past when the pressure was on and he missed a shot he was able to put it behind him and focus on the next shot, now he is carrying the baggage forward.”
Cowan is convinced that the problems are in Nadal’s mind but believes that only once the European clay court season begins will it be possible to gauge where the 14-time Grand Slam champion is up to.
“I have no doubts that it is mental because I have seen a lot of his matches this year,” he added. “I saw his match against Berrer in Doha, I saw his match against Fognini in Rio and on both occasions after promising starts, when the pressure was on he just couldn’t find an extra gear.
“He’s still in that comeback mode of trying to find his best tennis and for those guys their best tennis is when they’re under a bit of pressure, can they win when it really matters.”
More of a worry, says Cowan, is the form of last year’s Australian Open champion Stan Wawrinka after crashing out of both Indian Wells and the Miami Open earlier than expected in the past two weeks.
Cowan believes the Swiss is learning to adjust to being among the favourites for every tournament.
“It’s different for him now, he’s in the spotlight,” added Cowan. “It’s a strange one because that is what seems apparent but then last year after Indian Wells and Miami, he came out playing brilliantly at Monte Carlo and winning there.
“He’s never played great in Miami, he’s never got past the fourth round and I don’t think it is a place he particularly plays well because of the blustery conditions. Wawrinka is definitely a player who likes it when it is still, whether that is outdoors or indoors.
“That can also play a part, it can knock your confidence a bit, it can knock you off kilter. So that is a potential possibility but I’m sure it is hard for him after the matches against Haase in Indian Wells and Mannarino in Miami to take any positives going forward.”