Rafa still clay master.
Rafael Nadal has dominated the clay court season for well over a decade now. 10 Roland Garros titles and countless Masters 1000 events on clay. 2018 hasn’t started well for the World Number one. He has had some disappointing losses and injury setbacks. He was set to return in Acapulco but aggravated a hip flexor injury and pulled the plug on the North American Hardcourt season. He made his long awaited return in the Davis Cup against Germany and played in form Alex Zverev. Result an easy victory for Rafa. No signs of injury and any lingering doubts of perhaps being past his best evaporated.
Nadal had also made it to the top of the rankings again following Federer’s second round loss in Miami. He has approximately 4500 points to defend over the duration of the clay court season. Many predicted given Nadal’s fragile physical state it would be difficult for him to defend such a lead. Perhaps a more prudent approach should be adopted and play Monte Carlo, Rome and of course Roland Garros. It depends how Nadal’s team sees the schedule. On the eve of Monte Carlo Rafa is a big favourite as the challengers struggle to get their acts together.
The number one ranking will not be his priority and clinching an eleventh French Open title would. Rafa needs to arrive at the start line fresh and ready to go. Potentially 7 matches over 2 weeks on the most difficult surface will be tough physically. Any small niggles will be magnified by the heat of battle. Nadal needs to take a more pragmatic approach like Federer. He has on two occasions agreed to miss the whole clay court season to make hay during the grass and hard court summer. It proved correct in 2017 when he won the Wimbledon title and his twentieth slam.
The smart money is on Rafa this Spring. He has no equal on the dirt. If he can stay fit then it will take an incredible performance from an individual to beat him. Can anyone do that? It will happen at some stage but it doesnt seem like it will be this time.