Good news for Rafael Nadal: Roger Federer isn’t going to the French Open.
Regrettably, I’ve decided not to participate in the French Open. I’ve been working really hard, both on and off the court, during the last month but in order to try and play on the ATP World Tour for many years to come, I feel it’s best to skip the clay court season this year and prepare for the grass and hard court seasons. The start to the year has been magical for me but I need to recognize that scheduling will be the key to my longevity moving forward. Thus, my team and I concluded today that playing just one event on clay was not in the best interest of my tennis and physical preparation for the remainder of the season. I will miss the French fans, who have always been so supportive and I look forward to seeing them at Roland Garros next year.
As fascinating as it would’ve been to see if Federer’s resurgence translated to clay, the surface that least complements his aggressive game, that might not be in the cards this year, or ever again—if longevity’s what he’s after, there’s no reason for him to wear out his legs on the slowest courts with the longest points.
But maybe he was also discouraged by the impenetrable purple wall on the other side of the net. Federer won all three of their meetings this year, but if they met on clay, Nadal would have to be the prohibitive favorite. Rafa won his third straight title yesterday at the Madrid Open, improving to 15-0 on clay since Apr. 2. He steamrolled Djokovic 6-2, 6-4, breaking a 14-set losing streak to the Serb, and took down talented clay-courter Dominic Thiem in the final, 7-6, 6-4.
Though the 23-year-old Thiem played admirably heavy-hitting, high-risk tennis in the first set, he became just another skeleton in Rafa’s wake. The pattern is familiar: play the best tennis of your season, realize you you’re down a set and a break, and wonder what the point of any of this is, this whole professional tennis thing. How do you beat someone who finds a way to win this point?
Nadal faced some mild tests in Thiem, David Goffin, and Fabio Fognini, but nothing that should really concern him. Don’t expect the slumping Andy Murray or Djokovic to stop his run. Stan Wawrinka has had a quiet clay-court season, and even though the slumbering Stanimal often wakes up for Slams to play tennis at a level few humans have ever reached, its appearance is unreliable. Kei Nishikori is too hurt, Grigor Dimitrov too inconsistent. Neither Nick Kyrgios nor Alexander Zverev put up a fight against the Spaniard these last few weeks, though, to be fair, both were having noticeably off days. Few obstacles stand between Nadal and his 10th title at Roland Garros.