Rafa Nadal on the red dirt has been the most successful story not only in tennis but in all sports. After 14 years of divine dominance, Nadal is finally starting to look human.
It is the first time since Nadal started winning important clay tournaments in 2004; he goes to the Italian Open without a title in hand. But what does that tell about his chances at the ultimate clay spectacle of Roland Garros.
NADAL’S CLAY INVINCIBILITY NEARING AN END?
Nadal has been defeated by 3 opponents on clay this season. Surprisingly, none of them is Novak Djokovic, the only man who caused him some troubles on clay over the last one decade.
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In 2017 and 2018, Rafa lost only two of the 50 matches he played on his beloved clay. Come 2019, he has already lost 3 of the 12 played so far. The level is definitely not the same as past 2 years.
Before this season players lost most of the matches against Nadal in the mentally locker room itself before even going to the court. This is sure to change now. Other players would take note of these defeats and believe that Rafa is finally, “beatable”.
THE NEXT GEN PLUS DJOKOVIC
Nadal not only finds his own form receding this year compared to the last two years but also faces the hardest opposition. Novak Djokovic who has already once defeated Nadal in Roland Garros looks hungry to hold all 4 majors once again. He is already the champion at Wimbledon, Australian Open and US Open.
Dominic Thiem, who was last time beaten by Nadal in 3 comfortable sets at Roland Garros has honed his game further. He has already defeated Nadal in Barcelona this year and looks ready for a compelling assault to the King of Clay in him own Kingdom at Court Philippe Chatrier.
In addition there are other rising clay stars like Stefanos Tsitsipas who defeated Nadal in Madrid, Fabio Fognini and Daniil Medvedev. Adding to the list is the 2009 Champion Roger Federer who played wonderful tennis on his Madrid comeback.
NADAL’S OWN DROP IN LEVEL
After being defeated by Tsitsipas in Madrid, Rafa candidly admitted that in it not just his opponents but his own level that is causing him the defeats. His forehand seems losing the punch it once had.
The speed of his shots is not as fearful as it was and this means the winners are becoming difficult to come by.
Nadal might be making less unforced errors but he seems to make them at worst possible moments be it the double faults, the forehand misses or the backhand hit right into the net.
Rome now presents him the last opportunity to reassert his dominance before Roland Garros. A win in the Italian Capital will bring back the necessary confidence and preparation ahead of Paris.
It will however be premature to not count Rafa among the top favorites in both the tournaments. Plus French Open is the best of 5 and his most successful tournament with just 2 losses. But this Roland Garros is one of the most open tournaments in recent years. If Nadal goes out before the semis, it could be anybody’s Slam.