When word filtered out that Rafael Nadal had lost his opening match of the season at the Exxonmobil Open on Tuesday, fans were wondering who got the better of the former world No. 1?
The luck was with Michael Berrer, a 34-year-old German, father of two, who ranks 124 spots behind Nadal’s current No. 3.
Yes, everyone understood that Rafa was rusty – he missed two months after Wimbledon with a right wrist injury and then much of the rest of the year with appendicitis, eventually opting in for an appendectomy in early November. But still, Berrer was able to get the better of the Doha defending champion, even after Rafa stormed through the first set, eventually securing the match 1-6, 6-3, 6-4.
So what does Berrer credit for his surprising success, a success he never experienced in the two previous matches played against Nadal? On those two engagements, Berrer’s best effort was taking all of three games in the 2009 Indian Wells second round.
Berrer puts forth two theories for the win.
Firstly, he stresses a fine education for giving him the right tools.
“Well it helps if you do your Master’s degree in sports psychology, so you learn some things that may have been applied on the court in the last month,” Berrer said.
Secondly, he has nothing to lose in this his declared final year on tour.
“I’m pretty relaxed at the moment,” Berrer said. “I have made an agreement with my wife that I am allowed to play one more year, so I am really enjoying every single day on the tour.”
Berrer, like Nadal a southpaw, was also honest enough to access his good fortune realistically. While acknowledging he was willing to take risks against Nadal, he also understood the guy he played was not quite the Nadal who owns 14 Grand Slam titles.
“Today many good things came together, but we should not overrate this now,” Berrer admitted. “It was one victory. Tomorrow everything can change. It was just a good match and some luck that he came out of injury. We have to be realistic. He was not at his best. But for me, for sure, a memorable victory.”
On Wednesday, Berrer looks to keep his Doha good memories going in a second round encounter against Ivan Dodig of Croatia.