The boys looking to halt Rafa at Roland Garros

No Federer or Andy and Stan and Novak aren’t near challenging yet so who is a real challenge to Rafael Nadal on the clay?

It has been an intriguing clay court season so far which has seen some much needed performances from players needing it and two who have shone are Dominic Thiem and Alex Zverev.

Dominic Thiem’s March didn’t go to plan after picking up an ankle injury this meant he had to skip Miami and put his clay court preparations on the back foot. His performances in Monte Carlo weren’t great however you can’t complain as it was a first tournament back and then in Barcelona the same before he started to perform in Madrid with some incredible wins, one of which against Rafa and now he looks like that win has given him belief in Paris.

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Alex Zverev made all the headlines for the wrong reason early in the season with stories going around about a split with his coach but he has got on with his tennis impressively!

Performances have been very good, the way he approaches matches reminds me of Andy Murray in the way that he confidently goes about his game but with the respect of what his opponent can offer!

Madrid saw him pick up his third Masters 1000 title and on clay, he hasn’t done it yet at a major so really there is a lot of pressure to recreate his current form on a big stage.

Can they? Of course they can! I think Zverev has better game management which is where Thiem needs to improve in early rounds as sometimes he can get stuck in battles he shouldn’t have to battle too much in but then is almost flawless against top players but can take it out of him.

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Rafa reigns in Rome after rain delay!

The tour’s greatest gladiator is at it again. In one of the greatest cities in the world Rafael Nadal rose from the ruins to reign again after what turned out to be a decisive rain delay.

The challenge was mighty but if anyone is capable of it then it is Nadal who took home his 8th title in Rome ahead of Roland Garros.

The world number one got rolled out of the second set by a very impressive Alex Zverev who has had an incredible season with the German No.1 taking the set 6-1 followed by a 3-1 lead in the third set before the gods loomed over the Foro Italico which brought a rain delay.

After the delay it was all one way traffic as Rafa just went for it reeling off 5 games in a row to secure another title his third of the clay court season ahead of Roland Garros against one of his biggest threats!

The rain delay proved pivotal without it we could be sat here talking about a massive win for Alex Zverev ahead of the second major of the year but we can’t work and talk about what could have been, what happened is fact.

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Will the king reign again in 2018?

Rafael Nadal is the king of clay, fact! Injuries have meant since the Australian Open the Spaniard hasn’t played tennis. The clay court season for Rafa begins in Valencia with a surprise inclusion in the Davis Cup team as they take on Germany which is Rafa’s first inclusion for almost 2 years!

The order of play for the weekend has been announced and Rafa is set to play Kohlschreiber on Day 1 and Sascha Zverev on Day 3 but we know that Davis Cup nominations can change.

I’m surprised Rafa is in Valencia I thought he’d head off to Monte-Carlo and begin preparations there. Conditions are different so it is surprising to see him at Davis Cup however he will have just under a week on site at Monte-Carlo before his tournament begins.

His schedule for the clay court season is looking like this;

Davis Cup
Monte-Carlo (Masters 1000)
Barcelona (ATP 500)
Madrid (Masters 1000)
Rome (Masters 1000)
Roland Garros

He does have a lot of points to defend over the next 6 weeks even before Roland Garros. He won Monte-Carlo, Barcelona, Madrid and Roland Garros last year with just an early exit in Rome mixing things up so the pressure is on.

How fit is Rafa?

We will have to wait and see! If there is anyone that can play themselves into form and gain match fitness on the clay it is Rafa. Monte-Carlo has a very strong field once again this year so it won’t be a walk in the park and there are a lot of younger players on the tour who do go for it so finding an easy match to ease back into tour life will be tough.

I think theoretically Rafa could have gone to Miami but probably looked at the bigger picture and knew he’d most likely be better off getting ready for clay and all posts on social media have been of him training on clay.

I think over the course of the clay court season he will end up the king again this year. I am interested to see how long it will take to find that top form but when it really matters in seven weeks time at Roland Garros he will stand tall once again!

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CHAMP10N

In this sport, some things are just meant to be. After a tough 3 years after winning his 9th Roland Garros Rafal Nadal etches his name onto that famous trophy for a 10th time which is incredible!

After making the final in Australia all talk turned to that Roland Garros title aiming for number 10 but Nadal always saying 9 is his favourite number but he might be re-evaluating that right now.

Over the past three years he has struggled with injuries and form but as well as celebrating another major for the Spaniard also celebrate and praise his work ethic and commitment to always trying to be a better player. When things got tough after Grand Slam No.14 you couldn’t fault him if he decided to hang up his racket at this point but he wasn’t done and I have a feeling he isn’t done yet.

Even the best can go through that period of having a lack of confidence which shows despite title after title they are human and you can see what it meant to him to win once again and in style, the forehand was immense but his consistency throughout the fortnight in Paris was special dropping just 35 games in 7 matches which is his lowest number of games dropped during his run to 10 titles!

VAMOS!

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Why Rafa can dominate on the dirt again!

“King of Clay” we all know who we are talking about but it is something we haven’t used for a while. Monte-Carlo and French Open champion on nine occasions his dominance on the dirt was absolutely outstanding.

A couple of years of injuries and inconsistency in form meant that title was used less and less. It’s been almost three years since Rafa won his last major at Roland Garros in 2014 and this year he has looked as sharp as he did that year but has fallen short on three occasions to Roger Federer.

The big question is, can he reclaim that title and become a force on the clay once again?

Last year we saw Rafa win Monte-Carlo for the first time in three years after winning it 8 years in a row and going on an incredible 46 match winning streak by the coast but is he favourite once again?

Going into the tournament you’d have to say he is favourite. Inconsistencies are there in Kei and Stan’s game despite both being good clay court players and for Andy and Novak this is realistically going to be a tough ask, first tournament since early exit at Indian Wells it may take a week to find rhythm again.

There are no doubts in my mind that Nadal is playing his best tennis since he last won Roland Garros, he seems to have found some new confidence and slight changes to his game have helped.

This season he has added Carlos Moya to his team and I think it helps to get another set of eyes and ideas and this year we have seen a bit more variation in the serve especially with some spin and Nadal having one of the highest first serve percentages on the tour isn’t a surprise.

Where he has struggled this year is against fast thinking players and the first one that comes to mind is Federer. On the fast hard courts it doesn’t always suit Nadal but in these slow conditions in Monte Carlo he will be patient will be the one to beat.