Rafael Nadal has had a dream comeback this year. He has defied the critics that said he couldn’t, and pleasantly surprised his well-wishers by following through to the finals of every tournament he has entered in 2013, winning 6 out of his 8 appearances. He has set some records, strengthened some of his old ones, and the biggie of the clay season, the French Open, is merely days away. To get a better perspective on what his comeback means for Roland Garros, we asked a few experts – bloggers, sports writers and photographers – to give us their take on Rafa’s return to form and prospects at Roland Garros 2013.
Ella Ling is a photographer par excellence. She travels the world with her camera and her love for sports, capturing some of the best moments in tennis history. Her work is widely recognized and published world-wide. Ella’s take on Rafa:
As a photographer ‘specialising’ in Rafa, I’ve been on his comeback trail since the beginning in South America this year..it’s suffice to say that his game has improved measurably since the Final in Vina del Mar, and in my opinion (and surely the majority of other’s), he is odds on favourite to lift the Coupe des Mousquetaires trophy that he adores.
Apart from the slight hiccup against a just sublime Djokovic in Monte-Carlo, Rafa has shown that he remains, undeniably, the King of Clay, and I’m not ashamed to admit that I hope I get to photograph his smile on a SUN-filled Philippe Chatrier court, 2 1/2 weeks from now…
Lisa-Marie Burrows is a future star at Eurosports. She is broadcast journalist, a member of the International Press Association and a journalist for its online magazine, IMPress. She writes for several leading tennis websites, and has traveled through Europe to cover various tennis events. Lisa-Marie’s take on Rafa:
Rafael Nadal is known for his fighting qualities, stubborn determination and tenacious attitude towards winning. During his time out, he had to show all of these qualities when overcoming a knee injury, which left some wondering if he would ever come back on Tour. But come back from injury he did.
Since opening up his campaign at Viña del Mar in Chile, he has racked up an impressive 36-2 win/loss record. On the clay courts of South America, he reached the finals of all three tournaments he played in and lifted the trophies in Sao Paolo and Acapulco.
Critics may argue that it was to be expected as he is one of the greatest players of all time on clay, but it was on the hard courts of Indian Wells where many took note of his presence.
En route to the final he defeated Roger Federer, Tomas Berdych and Juan Martin del Potro in succession to be crowned champion under the Californian sun.
His European clay court swing during the build up to Roland Garros has been just as eventful and equally successful. Nadal reached the final at Monte Carlo, and won three more titles in Barcelona, Madrid and Rome, increasing his total to an impressive six title wins this year to date, an achievement possibly greater than even he expected.
Prospects at Roland Garros
The clay courts of Roland Garros are Rafa’s stomping ground. The Spaniard feels very comfortable on the courts and the conditions suit his style of play. Nadal may be feeling more confident now than at the start of the year after achieving so much success already on the clay court, but there is still an obstacle in the way: Novak Djokovic.
Nadal is due to meet the world No.1 in the semi-finals and should both players reach that round; it will be a very difficult challenge and a mouthwatering prospect.
Rafa’s draw is not that easy with potential encounters against Fognini, Wawrinka and Gasquet, but I feel that Nadal will progress past this stage and I have a sneaky feeling the popular Spaniard may be crowned champion in Paris for the eighth time.
Katrina writes the hilarious blog Querido Rafa. She has a knack for making anything sound infinitely funnier. Love that photo of Rafa? Want to rant about a bad match? Didn’t like Rafa’s hair today? Chances are, she’s already got it covered. It’s not all Rafa though; she talks about the greater tennis community, so there’s something for everyone. Here’s Katrina’s input:
The first thing that comes to mind when I consider Rafa’s Comeback (pretty sure that it’s capitalized) is a line from one of America’s great contemporary poets/NCIS: Los Angeles actors, Mr. James Todd Smith, pen name LL Cool J, in one of his most famous and venerated works, the 1991 modern classic, “Mama Said Knock You Out”:
Don’t call it a comeback.
One reason for this is that I just really enjoy LL Cool J and he and his works are never far from my thoughts. The other reason for this is that in a way, I don’t consider Rafa’s comeback a comeback so much as a continuation after a brief hiatus from the game/picking up of where he left off before his knee injury forced him to take time off. Granted, this does not exactly roll off the tongue as smoothly as comeback. Plus, everyone, including Rafa himself, is calling it a comeback. And, there’s nothing wrong with it being a comeback in the first place; comebacks are great. Look at Ben Affleck, for example–from Oscar to Gigli and back again to Oscar. My point is that the success of Rafa’s Comeback hasn’t been a huge surprise for me. I knew he could come back strong, and I knew he could win relatively quickly after his return, because he wasn’t gone that long and he’s one of the best tennis players ever. I didn’t know he would though, or that he would achieve quite the degree of success that he has so far. It has been truly delightful and thrilling, watching him playing his patented brand of tennis once again, whipping that forehand and laseringthat backhand (and yes, also occasionally popping up that backhand thereabouts the service box…), and improving from match to match and tournament to tournament and slowly but surely finding his groove and–perhaps best of all–quite perceptibly enjoying the process.
Which brings me to Rafa’s Roland Garros prospects. Had I written this 24 hours ago, before the draw came out, I likely would have been a little bit giddier and more exuberant when discussing this. Now that the draw is out, however, reality has set in, namely that Rafa must beat seven real live tennis players in order to win the tournament. It always comes as a bit of a shock. I know Rafa is notoriously hesitant to compare tournaments or matches or probably sweatshirts across years, however I have no such affliction. I can’t help but to think back to my general feelings about Rafa’s RG prospects in past years when assessing my impression this year: in 2010, I was eager, but edgy; in 2011, queasy and desperate; and last year, single-minded and resolute. This year, I’m grateful that he’s back, and I’m looking forward to what he’s got in store. I feel like it just might be something special.*
*But one match at a time, and seriously, Daniel Brands is no joke.
Melinda Samson is a grand slam gal. Literally. She’s done a Fan Slam in 2012 – visited the 4 Grand Slams all in one year. Mel writes about tennis and her incredible experiences on her blog, aptly titled Grand Slam Gal. Mel states:
I love tennis and I love the tennis world; attending tournaments, watching on TV, talking about players, reading tennis blogs and hanging with fans on Twitter. For me, and I know for a lot of other fans, Rafa makes the tennis world even better. Being from Melbourne, the Australian Open is my home slam. And although the 2013 event was fabulous, the truth is that every single day of the tournament fans and organisers felt the gaping hole left by Rafa’s absence. But what a comeback he’s made since then! Now, just seeing Rafa walk on to a tennis court makes me happy. And knowing he’s in such great form makes me ecstatic. Eight tournaments. Eight finals. Eight is a lucky number.
Can the streak of eights continue with Rafa surpassing last year’s record breaking seventh Roland Garros title? Yes. I’m confident it can. But regardless of the result, I’m grateful that Rafa will be back in action in a grand slam. And not just any grand slam. Roland Garros. Where the King of Clay reigns.
Romi Cvitkovic is the managing editor of Tennis Grandstand and World Tennis Magazine. She covers professional tennis events nationally and her writing is featured in USA Today. Romi writes:
Rafael Nadal is quickly approaching “living legend” status in the sports world, and his stellar comeback after a seven month injury layoff only further confirms his ever-growing legacy. “If you told me four or five months ago that after eight tournaments I would have won six titles from eight finals, I would say you are crazy,” commented Nadal after winning his seventh title in Rome and 24th overall Masters title last week. Even while skipping the year’s only Slam in Melbourne, Nadal leads the ATP’s Race to London. So if you think his “comeback” is anything less than spectacular, you may not have been paying much attention. Out of Nadal’s 56 career titles, 41 have come on clay, and he goes into this year’s Roland Garros as, dare I say, the only favorite. He dismantled Roger Federer in just over an hour in the Rome final, defeated David Ferrer the last eight times straight, and Novak Djokovic is still in questionable physical form with his ankle issues. Furthermore, Nadal leads the top 4 seeds’ combined head-to-head with an overwhelming 58-29 record overall, and 41-6 on clay. Talk about domination.
The only things that could even possibly derail Nadal from winning his eighth Roland Garros are: (1) a supremely in-form Novak Djokovic, (2) a big-hitter like Ernests Gulbis or Jerzy Janowicz in three or four sets (think Robin Soderling c. 2009), and lastly (3) a very bad performance by the Spaniard himself, which is highly unlikely but not impossible. Barring any re-injury, there is no reason why Nadal will not be crowned King of Clay once again.
Fernando Grisolía is a sports journalist based in Argentina who writes for Tennis Extra. He covered the news for Spanish radio Cadena Ser at the Viña Del Mar 2013 and provided us insightful information about Rafa’s game and form. Fer also covers other ATP events on a regular basis. This is what he has to say*:
The return of Rafael Nadal
After having the opportunity to be in Viña del Mar and witnessing the greatness of the Majorcan tennis player, I must admit that Rafa’s comeback was much better than expected. In Chile, the Spaniard was far from his best form as the best result he managed to score was reaching the final. Such an outcome might have been to due a whole series of problems related to a sore knee the Spaniard had to face till he got to Brazil.
However, with the matches being played, the pain started to subside and Nadal started to get back on top of his game. The outstanding level of the 2010 season aside, Rafa ended up having an almost flawless comeback with 8 finals in 8 tournaments. With no injuries bothering him, I think Rafa will soon find himself fighting to get back to world #1. If not this year, the battle will then be carried forward to 2014, I believe, where Rafa has got no points to defend in Australia. His game is mostly back, although I don’t see him playing at 100% at the moment. He can still strive to reach his best performance. It’s up to him and his knee.
I think that if Rafael Nadal doesn’t have any health issues, he’s the absolute favorite to capture the title. At the moment I don’t see any contenders capable of holding him back from his 8th crown in Paris. Perhaps Novak Djokovic, who’ll need to play the best tennis of his life and hope for a decline in the Majorcan’s game (in case they get to face each other, of course).
The other candidates haven’t proven themselves able to beat Rafa yet. If he keeps on playing this way, none will be able to dethrone him. If in 3 sets it’s tough to beat him on clay, in 5 sets it seems almost impossible. He’s the greatest of all time on that surface.
So there you have it. A consensus, of sorts, that Rafa will prevail, health permitting. What truly matters, in the end, is what happens on the courts next week. So let’s take it a day at a time, as Rafa does, and lend our support. VAM8S!