Clay Season set for more Rafa Domination?
It’s that time of year again. Early spring in Europe and the big events now all lead up to Roland Garros. The traditional clay court warm-up events, the bigger ones at least feature stops in Monte Carlo, Barcelona, Madrid and Rome. Rafael Nadal has dominated the clay court season since he first came on the scene. He has achieved the clay court slam winning all the biggest Masters 1000 series events in Monte Carlo, Rome and Madrid and then the French Open in 2010. No one else has come close to such an achievement.
Will 2018 be any different?
Rafael Nadal has been out of action since January due to a groin injury sustained in his quarter final match at the Australian Open against Marin Cilic. He made a return in last week’s Davis Cup triumph against Germany and seemed to be back to his best. Although he has many miles on the clock, Nadal has been down this road before and knows instinctively how to play on the clay. He can beat the rest of the tour on clay at 80-85%. The question is how fit is Rafa? Is his abductor injury fully healed?
The other contenders?
Nadal will be knocked off his perch for sure but when is the tough question to ask. There is no one at present who can perform at the Nadal level on clay. Sascha Zverev, Dominic Thiem, Hyeon Chung, Dennis Shapovalov have all raised eyebrows and hopes but currently as we speak none could beat Rafa in 5 on clay. Djokovic and Stan are the other more established clay specialists. Wawrinka is still out of the game with a knee injury. Djokovic is gaining form but will take a while. The clay season is an ideal time to find his groove and form given the long drawn rallies.
I fully expect Rafael Nadal to win in Monte Carlo for the eleventh time in 2018. Whether or not he plays his home tournament in Barcelona next week remains to be seen. Expect him in Madrid and Rome and similarly dominant performances there.