With Roger Federer out for most of the clay court season, Andy Murray struggling to find his defensive arsenal that propelled him to win tournaments and Novak Djokovic remaining inconsistent and unable to find momentum for his games, is now the best chance for Rafael Nadal to seek out his 15th Grand Slam title?
The answer is, yes.
If you were to ask me the same question last year, it would not be a definitive yes. But with the Big 3 title contenders of the Big Four (Federer, Nadal, Djokovic & Murray) inactive or incapable of finding their momentum, and with Nadal in imperious form, it is without a doubt that he remains the heavyweight favourite to carrying home his 10th French Open title from Paris.
Having a topsy-turvy start to the 2017 season, Rafa rose to his very best during the 2017 Australian Open, reaching the final, only to lose to his longtime rival, Roger Federer, 35, in an epic five-set encounter. This was followed by losses to Federer yet again in Miami and Indian Wells (Final). But with Federer out of sight and recovering for his best surface – grass, it became the golden opportunity for Rafael Nadal to pounce on.
Nadal kicked off his clay season beginning at the Monte Carlos Masters 1000, where he remained ruthless to win his 10th Monte Carlo title. In Barcelona, he remained in imperious form to win yet again another Barcelona title for also the 10th time under the court named after him – Pista Rafa Nadal. Nadal then moved on to Madrid, where he defeated Djokovic in the semi-finals for the first time in seven encounters before clashing with the 23-year old rising star, Dominic Thiem. Using his experience and mental fortitude, Nadal defeated Dominic yet again in straight sets to reclaim his Madrid ATP 1000 title for an unprecedented 7th time. This win moved him on par with Djokovic for the most number of ATP 1000 Masters Titles held with a record of 30 titles a piece.
Next stop, Rome.
The last big clay court event before the Roland Garros where top seeds Stan Wawrinka, Djokovic and Murray will also be playing. Andy Murray will be looking to defend his Rome title in 2016 which kickstarted his series of back to back titles later on that garnered him enough points to propel him atop the ATP rankings for the first time in 2016.
Are things looking good for Rafa? Yes, most certainly.
With back to back titles in Monte Carlo, Barcelona and Madrid, Nadal seems to be the one to beat now. His backhand is now more solid and consistent than ever, his drop shots are delicate yet ruthless to send his opponents scrambling and his blistering top-spin forehand is now as merciless as it once was during his younger days. If Nadal can carry on playing this way without picking up any injury along the way, things are shaping up to be good for him. Even though the odds against him are rather high, given his mental fortitude and his hunger to win, I believe Nadal is on the right path to winning Rome, and more certainly, his 10th Roland Garros.