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Contrary to popular opinion and accusations of cakewalk draws, I do believe that Nadal has improved on hard courts and the proof is in the results; regardless of "beat downs", consider his performances post US Open 2006/2007, where he couldn't be bothered to see a semifinal, far less a title, as opposed to post US Open 2007/2008, a period in which he made the quarterfinals of Madrid and the finals of Paris, losing both times to an on-fire Nalbandian and making the finals of Chennai this year, losing to his familiar nemesis Youzhny. At both the US Open and the Masters Cup, he lost to a player in the best form of his life, David Ferrer. This is a lot different to the calibre of players he lost to prior to this period: Malisse, Mahut, Joachim Johansson.

So, suffice it to say, Nadal no longer loses to, to quote MTF terminology, "mugs".

The problem I suppose, is not so much the results, but rather, the performances. There's no doubt he has suffered quite a few demoralising defeats, which begs the question: does he focus on the upside or the downside? He's gaining more points, as well as more experience on the surface, but ultimately, even on warriors like Nadal, such defeats can have an ever increasing mental effect. Seemingly, the deeper he makes into hard court tournaments, the more likely it will become that he will have to face a player whose style of play is simply better suited to the surface and thus far, the outcome has not been pretty.

In many respects, it's a lot like the Federer-Nadal conundrum. Federer knows that, in this era, he can beat the very best on the red clay, but he also knows that Rafael Nadal, the red brick wall of dominance, lies in wait, waiting to inflict another demoralising loss, adding to the ever increasing mental advantage the Spaniard already has over him.

Nevertheless, the deeper Nadal goes, there's also always the possibility that he may not run into such players, or he may be able to for one or more matches play at a level above his usual and come out the victor, and along the way, it will bring him closer to his goal of overtaking Federer in the rankings. The question is, at what cost?

So, in the long-run, will Nadal's improvement hinder or help him? Thoughts?
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