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Will the King of Clay Rafael Nadal reign again at Roland Garros?

At the recent Madrid Open, Rafael Nadal beat Novak Djokovic, the man he defeated in the final of the French Open at Roland Garros in 2014.

tennis Updated: May 16, 2017 16:02 IST
Oishi Bhattacharya
Oishi Bhattacharya
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
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Spanish tennis player Rafael Nadal serves to Austrian tennis player Dominic Thiem during their ATP Madrid Open final match in Madrid, on May 14, 2017. Nadal won 7-6 and 6-4. / AFP PHOTO / OSCAR DEL POZO(AFP)

Rafael Nadal has won 52 titles on clay, more than anyone else. He has won nine French Open crowns, more than any other player. He’s never been defeated in a final at Roland Garros. He has won five consecutive singles titles in Paris — an all-time record — from 2010 to 2014.

But will Rafael Nadal, the greatest ever clay court tennis player, win another French Open title this year?

He seems to have momentum on his side. He has started the clay court season on a hot streak, winning at Monte Carlo, Barcelona and Madrid. The series of titles has raised hopes of another Rafael Nadal victory in Paris, and Rafa seems as well prepared for it as he used to be in his prime.

At the recent Madrid Open, Nadal beat Novak Djokovic, the man he defeated in the final of the French Open in 2014.

And yet there are questions…

Heavy hitting

Rafael Nadal plays a game of incessant heavy-hitting, of manipulating the opponent, taking him out of his comfort zone, and thereby causing him to make unforced errors. His signature exaggerated top spin is what leaves his opponents in the dust.

However, Nadal was able to pull this off for longer periods of time and at a higher intensity and with more accuracy when he was younger. Now, his game fades against opponents who are good enough to match his intensity.

Nadal’s career has been ravaged by injury, the latest forcing him to take a seven-month break.

His hard-hitting, hustling game has taken a toll on his body. The heavy top spin he puts on his shots has exerted more pressure on his knees and it eventually may have led to a tendonitis of his wrist.

Rafael Nadal poses with ball boys as he celebrates his victory over Austrian tennis player Dominic Thiem at the end of their ATP Madrid Open final on May 14, 2017. Nadal won 7-6 and 6-4. ( AFP )

Because of his injuries, Rafael Nadal of late has been a much diminished player, surpassed by the athleticism of Djokovic, the grit and determination of Andy Murray and the remarkable revival of Roger Federer, once Rafa’s greatest rival and friend, the man with whom Nadal had redefined tennis rivalry when they were both at their best.

Will his body hold up in Paris when the French Open begins in a couple of weeks? He has won three tournaments on clay in the run up, but they were all best-of-three-set affairs. In the epic battlefield of the five-set Grand Slam, will that wrist and those knees be able to bear the load?

Rafael Nadal poses with his trophy after he won the Madrid Open on May 14, 2017. ( AFP )

Great start

The year has begun on a high note for the left-hander. He already has a 34-5 win-loss record in 2017 as against a 39-14 in 2016.

Neither Djokovic nor Murray, the world’s two top-ranked players, are in their best of form. Nadal has his compatriot, former world number one and clay-court specialist Carlos Moya to give him new ideas and suggestions.

Ever since injuries made him a fraction of the player he used to be, Roland Garros 2017 offers Nadal his best chance to reclaim lost glory. If he stays fit, La Decima awaits. If Nadal can win his 10th French Open title, it will be a record unlikely to be surpassed in many, many years.

First Published: May 16, 2017 15:58 IST