Rafael Nadal will be looking to win his 18th Grand Slam when he heads into this year’s second tennis major at Roland Garros.
The tournament began on Sunday and the ‘King of Clay’ will be a favourite to retain his crown.
The Spaniard finally managed to win his first title of 2019 by winning the Italian Open last week. Nadal overcame his arch-rival and the world No. 1 Novak Djokovic, 6-0, 4-6, 6-1 on Sunday.
The Serbian will now look to return the favour in Paris.
Judging by recent form, Novak Djokovic is likely be his ultimate rival in Paris. However, the Spaniard will fancy his chances after the win in Rome.
Nadal will be full of confidence heading into his comfort zone this tournament and Djokovic will have his work cut out.
As for Roger Federer, the Swiss will come into this tournament on the back of a foot injury he picked up in Italy last week. He had to pull out of the competition in order to tend to the damage.
Even if he recovers in time, it seems unlikely that he will be at his best in Paris.
Rafael Nadal has won the French Open 11 times and recently the Australian legend Rod Laver claimed that he should be able to defend number 12 as well.
Rod Laver says that it is hard to see someone beating the Spaniard on clay. Such has been his dominance over the years on the clay court.
The Spaniard has won 58 clay titles over the course of his career. Meanwhile, Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic collectively have 25 titles on clay.
Nadal’s endurance and style of play has always given him an edge over his opponents on clay surfaces.
The Spaniard has grown up playing in the clay courts of Mallorca and Barcelona. The slow surface masks his weakness as a player. Nadal’s forehands are more dominant than his backhands. A slow surface gives him ample time to switch and use his dominant hand.
On faster surfaces, opponents deal better with his returns because he has less time to switch it up.
Furthermore, Nadal’s supreme fitness and agility serve him well on clay. The slow surface demands agility and endurance and the Spaniard is one of the fittest tennis players around.
These factors have helped Nadal establish himself as the master of mud over the years.
Nadal boasts an impressive track record against his main threats – Djokovic and Federer.
The Serbian has won only seven of his 24 matches on clay. Djokovic has also lost each of his two French Open finals against Nadal in 2012 and 2014.
Meanwhile, the Spaniard leads 13-2 against Federer on clay courts.
Rafael Nadal has battled hard to overcome his injury problems from last year. His win in Rome was more than just a title. It was a psychological victory for the Spaniard.
The win over Djokovic will have given him immense relief after 18 months of physical torment.
Last year, he was forced to withdraw from the Australian and US Open with knee problems. And he has been dealing with abdominal, ankle, thigh and hand issues since November 2018.
Furthermore, the 6-0, 4-6, 6-1 win in Rome speaks volumes.
Nadal not only battled back to beat a world class player. He outplayed the Serbian thoroughly.
Djokovic not only came second in the duel of skills. He was beaten physically as well. He looked slow from the onset and he went on to lose several drop shots against the Spaniard throughout the finale.
The 32-year-old is clearly a cut above his rivals on clay and he seems to have recaptured his form and belief as well. There is no reason to think that his clay dominance will come to an end in Paris this year.