Nadal overcomes Federer, but Djokovic is still the man to beat
The clay court season is in full swing, and the Italian Open concluded on Sunday with an emphatic victory for Rafael Nadal over his long-time rival Roger Federer. Given Nadal’s penchant for the clay courts it wasn’t a huge surprise to see him prevail over the Swiss, but nevertheless, his dominant 6-1 6-3 win over Federer has seen him installed by many as the favourite for upcoming French Open.
So, is Nadal lifting the Coupe des Mousquetaires for a record eighth time a foregone conclusion? Here we look at 3 factors that could determine whether or not the King of Clay triumphs once again.
Rafa is in incredible form
Rafa has been in imperious form since returning from a knee injury in February; winning six tournaments, and as we all know, the Spaniard thrives on the clay courts. It almost beggars belief that Nadal has been able to get up to speed so quickly, after being sidelined for 7 months with a nasty knee injury. His straightforward victory over Federer intimates that he is certainly able to battle the big boys, and it seems unlikely that many players will be able to live with him in the heat of Roland Garros.
Rafa’s enforced break from the game appears to have given him a new lease of life, with the player commenting that he feels mentally fresh – an attribute that should not be undervalued when one considers the mental strain that players go through during the course of a Grand Slam. His recent exploits at the Italian Open have seen him leapfrog Ferrer into 4th in the world, and being the 4th seed at this year’s French will certainly help him to avoid any of the big guns until later in the tournament.
Can he stay injury free?
Nadal has had an incredible career, but even though his trophy haul is incredibly impressive, one can’t help but wonder what might have been if he hadn’t been so badly affected by injuries. Given the demands that he places upon his body during a game, it’s difficult to rule out Nadal getting injured, and this remains one of the only question marks over his ability to retain the French Open title.
Whilst his victory over Federer on Sunday was comprehensive and highly impressive, it must be noted that it was a 3 set game as opposed to the 5 set games he will be required to play at the French. Playing a 5 setter on a slow playing surface is incredibly physically demanding, and sceptics may doubt Nadal’s ability to cope with that physical challenge, especially when one considers the fact that he is no longer able to train as much as he used to.
Can he overcome Djokovic?
While Nadal is indisputably the master of the clay courts, World No1 Novak Djokovic beat him in straight sets at the Monte Carlo Masters in April to end eight straight wins for Nadal in that competition. Djokovic is yet to win the French, and will be hungry to add it to his impressive trophy haul.
While Rafa is comfortable on the clay, few would be genuinely surprised to see the Serb vanquish the Spaniard in Paris. Having said that, Djokovic has gone on a fairly dismal run of form since Monte Carlo, winning just 2 games.
Realistically, with Andy Murray unlikely to play due to injury, the winner of the French Open is likely to be Nadal or Djokovic, and given both players aptitude for the big game, this one is very difficult to call. For the neutral, a potential Nadal-Djokovic matchup is a mouth-watering prospect, and one that I for one would relish.