The 2015 French Open began this weekend, and while 9 of the last 10 editions of this Grand Slam have seen the same man take the prize, something certainly feels different this year. Rafael Nadal, the sensational Spaniard who has made this tournament his own, is actually struggling. He has just one title this year (the unimpressive Argentina Open) and has fallen down to 7th in the ATP rankings, placing him well off the pace of his main competitors like Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer. Is his capitulation going to be complete at the Roland Garros this year?
The undisputed “King of Clay” has been largely off the pace during the clay court warm-up tournaments in the past month. At the Monte Carlo Masters, he lost in the semifinals to top ranked Djokovic. At the Barcelona Open, Nadal fell in the 3rd round to Fabio Fognini. In Madrid, it was resurgent Andy Murray that took him down in the final, and most recently in Rome, Nadal was beaten by Stanislas Wawrinka. What’s most alarming about these losses is that they were all straight set victories.
Since 2005 (when Nadal’s clay domination began), he has won at least one of these warm-ups every year before the French Open, often times numerous ones. In 2005, he won them all. This year he didn’t win a single one, and he’s often fallen well before the final matches. Why on Earth would he manage to snatch a 10th French Open title after such mediocre play?
Well, because he is after all Rafael Nadal, the “King of Clay”! His play in Paris over the years has been sensational. He’s outlasted the greats time and time again, cementing his legacy as the greatest clay court tennis player of all time.
But like all legends, his time will come, and this could be that moment. Other top men’s players have been eyeing such an opportunity for their entire pro careers. I sense this could be the moment for Djokovic to take this title, or perhaps Federer to claim a second, or even Murray could win in. Based on how this season has gone, I simply cannot fathom Nadal earning his 10th French Open title in 2015. Perhaps he will win another in the future, but his current form is average at best, and I suspect he will lose.
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