Is Rafa up to it?

Nishikori had struggled with a back spasm in Saturday’s dramatic semifinal victory over Nadal’s  fellow Spaniard, David Ferrer, and the injury returned to haunt him on Sunday. CNN on the Madrid Men’s Open Final

Has the King of Clay got feet of clay?

Nadal wins in Madrid

By Roger Childs

Rafael Nadal is the greatest male tennis player of all time on clay courts. He won a record breaking  eighth French Open on the clay at Roland Garros last year and has been unbeaten in Paris since 2005. (He was unable to play in 2010 because of injury.)

Rafa has also won the Monte Carlo and Barcelona clay tournament eight times. Last Sunday he won his fourth Madrid Open, so is the King of Clay odds-on to win another grand slam in the French Open in Paris, starting on May 25? No, the clay court maestro is struggling this year.

The clay season

Monte Carlo

April-May is the time of the year when the tennis world focuses on the clay courts of Europe. The climax is the Roland Garros grand slam, however there are four major tournaments in the preceding weeks:

~ Monte Carlo

~ Barcelona

~ Madrid

~ Rome.

There are a number of players who are clay specialists and, in years gone by, there have been winners in Paris who have not done well in other grand slams. Nadal himself won four Roland Garros titles before taking his fifth grand slam at Wimbledon, in a dramatic final against Roger Federer in 2008.

Mixed results for Nadal in 2014

Nadal is currently ranked number one in the world, however he has had a chequered run so far this year.

  • Australian Open : beaten in the final by Stanislas Wawrinka
  • Monte Carlo Masters: beaten by David Ferrer in the quarter finals (Wawrinka won the final)
  • Barcelona Masters: beaten by Nicolas Amalgro in the quarter finals (Nishikori won the final)
  • Madrid Open: beat Keri Nishikori in the final 2-6, 6-4, 3-0

Kei Nishikori shows the form that had Rafael Nadal reeling before the Japanese player had to retire.

So is Nadal peaking at the right time? Possibly, however Nishikori outplayed the Spaniard for one and a half sets before the Japanese player was plagued by back problems and had to retire in the third set.

What a desperately cruel night for Kei Nishikori. There was hardly a soul in the house who did not feel for him when his failing body gave up on him after he had moved to within a few well-placed strokes of winning the Madrid Open… Kevin Mitchell, The Guardian

Getting to the Madrid final was made easier for Nadal, as world number two, Novak Djokovic, didn’t play because of injury. Also arch rival, Roger Federer, was absent on important family business. Wife Mirka produced boys, Lenny and Leo, to give the twin girls some brothers.

However Djokovic and Federer will play in the last big pre-Paris clay tournament in Rome.

Federer recently tweeted: Oh and btw ciao tutti, I just arrived in bella Italia! Looking forward to Rome.

Wide open in Paris

Roland Garros

May 25th sees the start of the French Open at Roland Garros. Probably for the first time since 2004, the winner of the men’s singles is difficult to predict.

Will the King of Clay peak at the right time to win title number nine? Or will it be Djokovic , Federer, Wawrinka, Nishikori, Ferrer, Almagro or Berdych?

It’s a mouth watering prospect for tennis aficionados.