World No.3 Rafael Nadal will once again come to the French Open as the overwhelming favourite to win the title in Paris for the unprecedented 14th time. The Spaniard has long established himself as the King of Clay, and much of this tag emerged from his dominance on the clay courts of the French capital.
Ever since Nadal made his debut as a teenager at Roland Garros in 2005, he has been dominant at the tournament. In fact, he is inarguably the greatest champion in the history of the French Open. Such has been the authority of Nadal in Paris that he has won a whopping 100 matches and lost only two in the last 16 years. At the age of 34, he is also the oldest French Open champion since 1972 and the third oldest overall.
With 13 championship wins at Roland Garros, Nadal is also the only player in (both men’s and women’s) history to have won as many titles at the same venue. After an early stutter, the Spaniard resurrected his clay court campaign for the season by winning the Barcelona Open and the Rome Masters. The southpaw comes in fully prepared for another historical run in Paris.
As we warm up to the event, let us throw light on some key elements that will work in Nadal’s favour.
Although there is talk about the next generation reducing the gap between them and the Big-Three, the likes of Stefanos Tsitipas, Daniil Medvedev, Andrey Rublev and Alexander Zverev are yet to win a Grand Slam. While the Greek sensation might have enjoyed a successful time on the clay this season, it is unlikely that he will be able to nail his maiden Slam in Paris in the next few weeks. While the Russian has already declared his hatred for the surface, the German continues to remain an enigma in the Grand Slams.
Moreover, for the next generation to crack the code at Roland Garros, they will have to endure 14 days of physical and mental endurance, which at this point appears doubtful. While Dominic Thiem can be a dark horse, the Austrian’s recent injury and poor form might prevent him from reaching the final stages this year.
Given the recent past performances at the French Open of the aforementioned names, we might only see Tsitsipas in the final four on the last Friday of the French Open. That said, he will eventually be forced into submission when he faces a high-spirited, determined Nadal in Paris.
Djokovic only threat to Rafa’s dominance?
Novak Djokovic has been Nadal’s biggest threat over the past decade, across surfaces. The Serb has consistently stopped the Spaniard from winning multiple Majors in the past. While Djokovic might not be the favourite against Nadal on clay in Paris, he still remains the biggest threat.
Djokovic is the only player in history, along with Robin Soderling to have beaten Nadal at the French Open. While the Swede stunned Nadal in the fourth round in 2009, Djokovic beat Nadal in the 2015 quarterfinals.
Moreover, Djokovic is also the only player to have pushed Nadal to five sets in the semis of Roland Garros (2013). He was also seen bothering Nadal in the finals of the 2012 championships, where he took eight games on the bounce, before the rain break changed the momentum in Nadal’s favour.
But perhaps, Djokovic’s biggest asset is his belief, where he genuinely believes that he can beat Nadal on the clay courts of the French Open for the second time. Although the top-ranked player received a drumming from the champion in the last year’s finals, it would be a folly to ignore Djokovic’s mental and physical prowess.
Clinical in the early rounds
Unlike other Grand Slams, where Nadal is susceptible in the early rounds, the 20-time Major winner has never faltered at the early stages of the French Open. Only once has Nadal ever been taken to five sets in the early rounds in Paris. In 2011, the big serving John Isner did manage to lead Nadal by two sets to one in the opening round, before he lost to Nadal in five sets. The King of Clay is always quick off the blocks at Roland Garros, and only gets better as the tournament progresses.
Court Dimensions & Conditions at French Open 2021!
Nadal plays most of his matches on the Philippe Chartrier- main court, where the court allows Nadal to roam several feet behind the baseline to retrieve balls out of the corners. Also returning the serve deep in the court, he can take a massive swing at the ball and take the advantage away from the aggressive players. In addition, Nadal is a master at using the angles at the Chartrier. Since the baseline and the width doesn’t stop him from going back and using his top-spin, Nadal gets into position of dominating the play.
Also, unlike the other clay courts we see at the ATP events, the surface at the French Open suits Nadal more. Simply put, the thickness of the clay enables Nadal to use his leg strength to wear out his opponents in the longer rallies. It also reduces the power and the serve speed of his rivals. Since this edition of the French Open is traditionally going to be played in the summer, the hot weather conditions will once again help Nadal. With the sun shining, the court will further aid Nadal’s top-spin forehand, which can hurt his opponents.
With no apparent threats, Nadal’s biggest challenge could come in the form of injury. Historically, the Spaniard has been in the pink of health during the entire fortnight of the French Open. That said, we also saw how he was forced to withdraw from the event in the early rounds of 2016.
The 13-time French Open winner might even get seeded third for the tournament, and the organizers will do well to place Nadal in the opposite half of Djokovic. While we will discover where defending champion falls on Thursday evening, he is unlikely to be prevented from winning his 14th title in Paris and record-breaking 21st Grand Slam!
It’s Paris. It’s summer. It’s once again time for VAMOS!