Feat of clay or is Rafa human after all?
Are we seeing the Rafale Nadal finale?
Is his career coming to a close – or at least is his dominance on clay is at risk as the 11-time champion struggled early on in Barcelona the week.
Rafa admitted in an interview he was struggling to overcome a knee injury. “We are having complicated times,” he said.
“You have to try to take the path to improve. I’m not at my best in recent weeks.
“I have come back from a physical problem, they have been accumulated in recent months, all these interruptions end up affecting you physically and mentally and little by little you have to recover all of that.
“There are always doubts, the doubt is good, but I hope that I will have good times again.”
Nadal was stunned by Fabio Fognini in straight sets in the semi-finals of the Masters 1000 tournament in Monte Carlo 10 days ago and was equally honest in his assessment.
“I probably played one of the worst matches on clay in 14 years,” he said.
“When that happens, you have to lose. And I deserved to lose because I played against a player that was better than me.”
So where – oh, where – does that Nadal heading towards the French Open in just a few weeks.
Let’s take a quick look back over the past couple of months before look forward and start making rash predictions.
He arrived in Monte Carlo claiming he was unaware of his physical condition after a one away from the game.
A knee injury – the latest in a long list – had forced him to withdraw from the Indian Wells semi-final against Roger Federer in March.
He then withdrew from the Miami Open.
Now, remember, he has not won a title since his victory at the Rogers Cup in Toronto last August.
In tennis terms, and in Nadal terms, that is a long time.
It is clear from Barcelona he is still struggling and time is running out.
There’s now a one-week break from competition before the Madrid Open. Then the Italian Open ahead of the French.
And Roland Garros is Fortress Nadal. He has lost just two matches in 88 encounters there.
With or without a troubling knee he is still a threat – especially when others around him also lack consistency.
Dominic Thiem was thought a successor, but he too is not on form.
And a forgotten man on clay…
The clay court campaign has another intriguing complexion this season with the return of Roger Federer.
The Swiss is scheduled to make his return to the surface in Madrid after skipping the clay schedule for the last two seasons.
As we go to press, Rafa is still there in Barcelona – but age does eventually catch up with all athletes.
Interesting times ahead.
Written by Peter Rowe for Grandslamtennis.online. To read more visit grandslamtennis.online