Will this be that historic moment or won’t? Could we finally see the first ever tennis professional in Rafael Nadal to win half-a-score of a particular Grand Slam this season?
After Nadal won his successive fifth at the Parisian clay and ninth overall in 2014, the tennis enthusiasts have been more than just eager to witness the best claycourt player of all time to lift his tenth at the Roland Garros – where none has won more than six times. With the Spaniard winning three titles on the trot – with his career tenth at the venues of Monte Carlo and Barcelona respectively – many took those as a forecast of what was to transpire weeks later in Paris.
Nadal – who had an on-off season last year – started the year at Brisbane. He won two matches before failing to go past the quarters being ousted by the Canada’s rising star Milos Raonic. However, the Mallorcan had the sweet revenge at the later of the month when he made short of the world no. 3 at the Melbourne Park to progress into the final four. A further win over Grigor Dimitrov ensured his first major final in almost three years.
His long-time bunny Roger Federer however had a different script for the final. The Swiss maestro busted the myth about age to win another major at 36. In a month’s time, Nadal would reach another final at Mexico only to collapse at the summit to Sam Querrey. Federer would once again return to haunt his nemesis at the Indian Wells – cutting short Nadal’s revival at the round of 16 in a straight set dominance. A fortnight later, the two celebrated figures would clash again – this time at the final in Miami.
The Swiss kept his recent bragging rights – once again piling up the misery and for the first time registering four straight victories over Nadal, the first of which came in 2015 Basel. The miserable head-to-head improved a bit for Federer now – though still reading 23-14 in favour of Nadal.
With Federer taking a break from clay after his “sunshine double”, Nadal started his own collection – taking the tennis fans a walk back a decade. Nadal saw off youngsters like Alexander Zverev and David Goffin to win his tenth title at Monte Carlo – dropping just a single set all through the tournament. He went one better at his native Barcelona the following week – winning another La Decima of his career. This time the Spaniard did not drop a set.
Nadal’s biggest win of the season came at the Madrid Open earlier this month when he tamed the world number two Novak Djokovic at the semi-finals. The Serbian who boasts of a positive head-to-head over each of his “Big Four” rivals lost for the first time in eight meetings – his last defeat coming at the 2014 French Open final. Nadal – who would beat Dominic Thiem for both his Barcelona and Madrid crowns – however suffered a latest heartbreak at Rome when the Austrian world no. 7 would script his downfall at the last eight.
However, the summer hattrick (Monte Carlo, Barcelona and Madrid) was Nadal’s best clay opening since 2013 – a season when he won a total of 10 titles. The 14-time Grand Slam winner won 17 matches on a trot since Miami defeat to Federer till Thiem catastrophe at Rome. With Andy Murray not in the best of shape winning nothing apart from Dubai and Novak Djokovic (won just Qatar) too finding his steps heavy since completing the career Slam last May, this cold form of the top two coupled with the hiatus of Federer could aid in the late resurgence of Nadal to claim his La Decima at the Philippe Chatrier this year.