The King of Clay is back in the groove — is he hitting top form?
For me …winning titles is important but the most important thing is feeling competitive and feeling healthy. I’m very happy for the victory, I played well. –Rafael Nadal
by Roger Childs
The Spaniard has the most clay court titles in the Open Era, however, for much of this year he has given the appearance in crucial matches of having feet of clay. Going in to the recent Italian Open in Rome, Rafa has failed to reach the final in the previous three big tournaments on the orange dust — in Monte Carlo, Barcelona and Madrid.
However, he was in the semi finals at each of the venues losing to
Fabio Fognini 4-6 2-6 at Monte Carlo
Dominic Thiem 4-6 4-6 at Barcelona
Stefanos Tsitsipas 4-6 6-2 3-6 in the Madrid Open.
Then over the weekend he peaked in Rome demolishing world number one Novak Djokovic (The Joker), 6-0 4-6 6-1.
Beating the best
It’s always a special match against Novak, he’s having a great season, winning in Australia, Madrid and (being) in the final here. –Rafael Nadal.
Nadal was on fire for this match-up with the world number one. Djokovic couldn’t win a serve in the first set and it looked as if the Spaniard would cruise through in straight sets. However the Joker fought back with some excellent serving and powerful, superbly placed forehand winners.
It’s not easy to get past Nadal who is probably the world’s greatest retriever. However there were some unexpected lapses from Rafa and Djokovic took the second set 6-4. However normal service resumed in the third set and the Joker was blown away. Nadal’s service was fast and accurate, and he backed this up with powerful winners, especially cross court forehands, tightly placed deep and wide.
The pressure told on the top seed and he ran out of ideas. He tried several ridiculous drop shots which consistently went into the net. Nadal’s power and pace were too much for the Serb, and the man who is normally calm and collected, at one point destroyed a racquet – or in the parlance, was guilty of “racquet abuse”.
Still the King of Clay
So Rafa remains the king. In Rome he peaked at the right time so expect the Spanish master to triumph again at the second grand slam of the year at Roland Garros in Paris.
However, the French Open which starts next weekend, will be not be a pushover. The Joker will be smarting over his humiliation in Rome and will be keen to show why he is currently the world’s top ranked player. Both Tsitsipas and Thiem are very impressive clay players and have both beaten Nadal on the dust this year.
And then there is Roger Federer. The Swiss maestro was narrowly beaten by Thiem in Barcelona in arguably the best match of that tournament. Then in Rome he pulled out after qualifying for the quarter finals. Rain delays had forced him to play two matches on one day and he suffered a minor muscle strain. Nevertheless, he is confident of being fit for Roland Garros.
But it will not be easy for the challengers, as Nadal practically “owns” the tournament, having won the event an extraordinary 11 times!