Rafa resurges just in time for another ‘La French Open Decima’ attempt
Sam Barnard, Assistant Sports Editor | April 29, 2016
There were many who doubted that Rafael Nadal would never be able to win a Grand Slam again and slowly fade out of the sport after suffering numerous injuries and slipping down to 10th in the ATP world rankings.
However, the Spaniard has risen again just when it matches ahead of the 2016 French Open, which starts on May 22nd, after claiming his ninth Monte Carlo Masters title, just before lifting the Barcelona Open for as many times too.
Beating the likes of fellow top seeds Andy Murray, Stan Wawrinka, Kei Nishikori and Gael Monfils along the way in those clay court events certainly show that the 29-year-old is back with a bang and still hungry for more.
Nadal to gain further confidence in upcoming Masters’
With two more Masters tournaments to come before Roland Garros, at Madrid and Rome, Nadal will be aiming to increase his current ranking of five as much as possible to have a favourable draw and route to the final.
No one in the history of the men’s singles game has ever won 10 titles at a single Grand Slam, only women’s great Margaret Court achieved it at her home Australian Open 11 times, and the Mallorca-born star is now back in contention for ‘La Decima’.
Nadal has lost just twice at the famous France tournament, in 2009 to now-retired Robin Soderling in the fourth round and last year in the quarter-finals to Novak Djokovic. The latter defeat came during a season where the Spaniard failed to win any of the four Grand Slams for the first time since before his first at the French Open in 2005.
A first round exit in the Australian Open in January didn’t do a lot to help his confidence, but Nadal has shot right up in the betting with Coral to the 11/4 second-favourite following his promising form.
Djokovic within touching distance of Nadal’s record
Old rival Djokovic still tops the market odds-on at 5/6, due to being the dominant world number one and the last person to beat Nadal on clay, at the Indian Wells Masters.
The Serb has now won 11 Grand Slams, after claiming five of the last seven on offer, and is just three behind the ‘King of Clay’.
Djokovic knows that he needs the French Open to join an elite group of seven names that includes Nadal and Federer to win the career Grand Slam. This year’s event at Roland Garros is certainly one to watch, with duo Djokovic and Nadal surely destined to meet at some stage.
Clay surface all-time great Nadal will be buoyed by the fact that his Serbian rival has shown signs recently that he isn’t immortal after all, as 28-year-old Djokovic suffered a shock loss to world number 63 Jiri Vesely at Monte Carlo, and also failed to complete a match against Feliciano Lopez in Dubai three tournaments before that.
There is not only the aim of edging further in front of Djokovic for Nadal, but also overtaking the man level with him in Pete Sampras, who also managed 14 Grand Slams across 12 years, during a competitive era which had the likes of Andre Agassi, Boris Becker and Pat Rafter.
Can anyone else threaten resurgent Rafa?
While, young-guns Kei Nishikori, Milos Raonic, Nick Kyrgios and Grigor Dimitrov will be aiming to finally step up and claim a maiden Grand Slam before it becomes too late and a new batch of talent comes through.
But if Nadal can keep up his form for just a month longer, it is doubtful any of the above can match his ability on his favourite surface, though they can take heart in the fact that he is no longer invincible on clay. In his current 10-match unbeaten run, just Monfils and Murray have taken sets off the Mallorca man.
Nadal is no dope
Perhaps the one thing on Nadal’s mind of late, though, is an ongoing spat with former French government minister Roselyne Bachelot, who has accused him of doping in the wake of Maria Sharapova’s high profile ban.
“I intend to defend my integrity and my image as an athlete but also the values I have defended all my career,” Nadal said.
“I wish to avoid any public figure from making insulting or false allegations against an athlete using the media, without any evidence. I am tired about these things. I let it go a few times in the past. Not any more.”
It has come to the point that he intends to sue the 69-year-old, and has even asked the ITF to publicly announce that the Spaniard has never failed a test, based on the apparent suspicions that his spells on the sidelines were in fact as a result of being banned.
Despite these off-court issues, though, they have certainly not hindered his form, and perhaps it has even spurred him on, as he is well-known to be a warrior and battler when in a competitive environment.
Madrid Open up next for ‘Big Four’
Nadal, Djokovic, Murray and Federer will all be on show from May 2nd at the Madrid Masters, a tournament which the former just happens to have the record amount of titles at too with four, though the other three have also tasted victory on the red Spanish courts as well.
Murray defeated the Spaniard with relative ease in last year’s final 6-3 6-2, but can he gain revenge on home soil now he is revitalised and seemingly back to his former self?
Check out more tennis content in our dedicated section, where we will be covering the upcoming French Open.