Wounded Rafa would be hard to stop on clay

Rafael Nadal

The year 2017 started on a memorable note for tennis fans around the world with a classic match between Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal in the final of the Australian Open at the iconic Rod Laver Arena. Federer edged out his long-time rival Nadal in an epic five-setter and got his 18th record major but it was Nadal’s resilience which was also widely appreciated in the sporting circles.

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The legendary duo of Federer and Nadal once again met in the Indian Wells and in the recently concluded Miami Open. But on all the occasions, it’s the Swiss maestro who emerged as the winner. Despite three consecutive victories this year, the Spaniard leads the head-to-head record by 23-14 over the eighteen-time Grand Slam champion. Post completing his ‘Sunshine Double’, the 35-year old has opted to sit out all the upcoming Masters events in Monte Carlo, Madrid, and Rome.

As we head into the second quarter of 2017, the focus has now shifted to the clay courts of Roland Garros. And if we look at the quality of the tennis that have been played in the first three months of the year by both Roger and Rafa this year, you’ve got to say that they are favourites for the next two Majors – Rafa at French Open and Roger at Wimbledon.

Courtesy their current form, both these old stalwarts have made an entry into the top five of the ATP world rankings which are led by Britain’s Andy Murray followed by Novak Djokovic. In the past 12 months or so, the ‘King of Clay’ – Rafa constantly dealt with heath issues and injuries that have led to his withdrawal from several tournaments.

But 2017 has brought good news for Nadal fans as the Spaniard is getting his consistency back on the tennis court with the help of his body which has started supporting him once again. The 30-year old has found power, pace and aggression in his game which he was lacking in the past. Moreover, he was struggling with confidence. These qualities are back in the game of the Mallorca native which has helped him to rule the pro-circuit for nearly a decade, especially on the clay courts of France.

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Despite losses against Roger, Nadal will not be short of motivation when he’ll step on his favourite surface. The real question is, who is going to beat Rafa on the red surface? Nishikori might give him a tough match but lacks the power to outclass the Spanish, his counterpart Ferrer lacks the skills to beat him; there are Novak and Andy who boasts a decent record on clay courts but they too won’t find it easy to overpower him. Someone needs to display extraordinary ability to push Rafa out of the tournament – perhaps more so than ever before in this year’s French Open.

With current form, it’s hard to imagine Nadal getting defeated at the historic Philippe Chatrier where he has won nine Majors out of his overall fourteen.

Andy Murray is currently No.1 in the world, but he hasn’t shown the same form he displayed in 2016. Djokovic is in a different mental state and is nowhere the player who seemed almost untouchable till last summer. The top two in the World are now being chased down by two of the sports’ greatest. For now, the focus is on Rafael Nadal who will be eyeing glory for the record 10th time at Roland Garros.

 

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