It was a Novak Djokovic show right from the start of the year till recently. But, the Rafael Nadal fans now have something to cheer for.
The World no. 1 started the year with the same form that he ended the last year with. The Serb won the first tournament of the year in Doha before winning a record sixth Australian Open. Later he won two back-to-back Masters 1000 tournaments in Indian Wells and Miami – dropping just one set collectively in those two weeks.
However a week later, Djokovic faltered at the very first hurdle in the Monte-Carlo Masters. It was his earliest exit from a Masters 1000 tournament since Madrid masters three years back. And it was the second loss for the 11-times Grand Slam champion – the first being a first-set retirement to Feliciano Lopez at the Dubai Open.
But, on the other side, Rafael Nadal kept aside the memories of a lackadaisical 2015 and an even more disheartening Australian Open first round loss this year to make inroads into the ATP circuit. He set off with the South American clay soon after the debacle at Melbourne Park but could not progress beyond the semis. In the Indian Wells, he was cut short by Djokovic in the semis again. And his fans were more disillusioned with his third-set retirement in the very first match he played in the heat at Miami.
However in the sunny side, the Mallorcan went on to win the Monte Carlo masters for a record nine times. Though he didn’t drop many games initially, he did drop sets in both the semi-final and final. It is important to note that the clay king has dropped only some 6 sets in 8 titles run-up and most of them coming against the Big Four of this generation – winning without dropping a set on four occasions. The very next week, he won the native Barcelona Open without shedding a set (the sixth time in this manner and ninth title so far in career) to draw level with Guillermo Vilas on a record 49 career titles on clay.
Now the biggest challenges up next are the twin Masters 1000 events at Madrid and Rome followed by the second Grand Slam of the year – the Roland Garros. Except last year, Nadal had won either a few Masters or the Grand Slam on clay every year since 2005. And just with the exception of the last three seasons, Nadal had every year won both the Monte-Carlo masters and the Barcelona Open every time he participated at the onset of the clay season. So his twin wins this year is surely a sign of his resurgence.
Although the Madrid masters next week followed by the Rome masters another week henceforth will perhaps be more suggestive of the fact that whether that ‘La Decima’ will be achieved by the Spanish at Paris over the long-awaiting ‘career Grand Slam’ of Novak Djokovic.
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