After putting an injury-ridden season behind him last year, tennis great Rafael Nadal flew out of the traps by becoming the most successful Grand Slam player of all time with victory at the Australian Open in January. Then, when another win followed in Mexico one month later it seemed as if the Spaniard was back to his old, unstoppable self.
His next event came at Indian Wells, and after he reached yet another final the question of who can stop the 35-year-old was beginning to be asked? The one man who did stand in his way, and end his scintillating run was American Taylor Fritz as he saw off Nadal in straight sets to bring to an end his 2022 dominance.
And, after finally being halted by one of his fellow ATP stars, the 21-time Grand Slam champion was dealt another obstacle due to his dreaded fitness troubles. It has been no secret that Nadal has struggled with injury in recent years, and when it seemed they were finally in the past, his troubles came back to haunt him once more, just as the French Open arrives on the calendar.
All of sudden the discussion surrounding Nadal soon switched from how can he be stopped, to how long does he have left at the top of the game, as his injury problems returned. As Nadal’s form has begun to stutter, his old rival Novak Djokovic has enjoyed lift-off following his stop-start beginning to the New Year.
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As well as Djokovic, the presence of Nadal’s Spanish prodigy Carlos Alcaraz means bouncing back at Roland Garros will prove even tougher, with the young teenager taking the ‘unstoppable’ baton from his fellow Spaniard, following wins at the Miami, Barcelona and Madrid Open.
Nadal’s stutter and Djokovic and Alcaraz’s recent rise in form has seen his two rivals become the two stars hotly tipped to lift the French Open crown ahead of the injury-ridden Spaniard. Writing the 21-time Grand Slam champion off though is always a dangerous decision, especially when out on the Parisian clay.
The Spaniard has proven to be a magician when on the Roland Garros stage throughout his career, and has an incredible 13 French Opens to his name, including nine in 10 years between the 2005 and 2014 edition. Regardless of his remarkable run in France, you only have to look back at Nadal’s heroics down under just four months ago as evidence of him thriving when his back is against the wall.
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Like Roland Garros, the 35-year-old travelled to Melbourne on the back of an injury-ridden run and his winning chances were murmurs rather than confident tips. In typical Nadal fashion though, he bounced back when it mattered most by shocking the tennis world with victory after many had already written his career – let alone his tournament chances – off.
Remarkably the big event Down Under is where the Spaniard has enjoyed his least success alongside Wimbledon – having two titles to his name – so if he can turn it around in Melbourne, there is no question he can be back to his best in Paris. Yes, his chances seem weaker than they did just two or three months ago, with the roaring emergence of Djokovic and Alcaraz alongside his fitness troubles.
However, if there is one man that cannot be written off, it is undoubtedly the great Nadal competing on the iconic Roland Garros clay, an arena he has more than made his own.