There’s still some time before the Roland Garros (six days), but Rafael Nadal has proven that he’s still the man to beat this clay season after claiming another Masters title by beating Novak Djokovic in the Rome Masters to claim his 7th title in Italy’s capital.
More importantly? He’s putting the ghosts of last year, when he lost to Novak Djokovic in four consecutive finals between the Australian Open and the French Open, behind him. This isn’t the 2010 Nadal, who simply rampaged through the tour, winning three consecutive Grand Slam titles. He isn’t that good. Maybe not yet, maybe not ever.
But he kept pushing Novak on the red clay in Rome, a welcomed change after their terrible week in Madrid, when both did more complaining than actually playing, leaving Roger Federer to master the blue clay. In Rome, order was restored. Djokovic beat a tired (according to him) Federer in the Semi Final, while Nadal went through another tournament without dropping a set.
Since the Sony Ericsson Open in Miami, where Nadal was forced to drop out of his Semi Final against Andy Murray due to another injury, he’s dropped only two sets, both in the same match, his only loss on Clay this year, to Fernando Verdasco. Mind you, it was Blue Clay, in the tournament Nadal hates with all his heart. Besides that, he’s been perfect, which leaves us with only one conclusion heading into the 2012 French Open.
Nadal will break Bjorn Borg’s record and stand alone with seven French Open titles, moving him up to 11 Grand Slam championships. Bold prediction? Not if you consider the past, and this season. Nadal can suddenly cringe in pain in unexpected moments and leave us wondering how much his knees/shoulders/make you pick can last, but it’s nearly impossible at the moment to beat him on clay. The only man who can, Novak Djokovic, is going through some sort of relapse.
Because you’d like to say Nadal played unbelievable tennis on Monday. But he didn’t. Novak Djokovic simply let Nadal off the hook, letting the match slip away from him. There are two ways to look at unforced errors – One is to acknowledge your opponent was putting so much pressure on you and forcing you to reach difficult shots; The other is that you simply blew easy opportunities. Djokovic, in the 2012 Rome final, belong to the latter.
Djokovic had 41 unforced errors, ending the match on a double fault. Typical of a bad day from the Serb, who has already accumulated 5 losses this season. A year ago, he was entering the French Open with a 37-0 record and six titles to his name. This year, it’s only two. Australia and Miami.
You would like to add Roger Federer to the mix of potential French Open champions, but it’s hard to see it happening. Not on clay, and not with Federer showing obvious signs of fatigue when he plays too many tournaments. Federer was always anything but tired, but when you’re in your 30’s, it’s hard to match the workloads of players five and six years younger.
It’ll fall between Nadal and Djokovic, with Rafa having the obvious advantage. He’s back at number 2 in the world, meaning he has Roger Federer to go through, hypothetically, in the Semi Final. Despite losing to the Swiss the last time they met (Indian Wells), it’s hard to see Federer taking this one from Nadal. But against Djokovic, in the final? If Novak sets whatever it is that’s bothering in his head straight, Nadal’s old fears of seeing a solid, unmovable Novak will come back to haunt him. Chances are though that won’t be the case.