Nadal Wins Barcelona: Is He Back?

Hi, folks. I hope you are all doing very well. Nadal won his 9th Barcelona title last week and in doing so equaled Vilas for the most clay court titles at 49. This after he won Monte Carlo last week.

Of course, his fans will claim that is another sign that he is back. But what does that even mean? That Nadal is going to start winning slams again? When is he back? When he wins the French Open?

He did that nine previous times as well. I don’t even think if he wins the French Open that it necessarily means he is back. One more French Open was always a possibility. For me, he would be back if he can win a slam off of clay.

I watched some of Nadal’s matches against Fognini and Nishikori. And yes he played well. I couldn’t see much difference between his current self and his old self. But for me, the real test was always going to be when Djokovic is back.

Nadal was pretty much expected to win Barcelona. Will it help his confidence? Of course, it will! But we will see what happens when he faces Djokovic again. That is the true test. Djokovic won both their meetings on clay last year, including the straight-set beatdowns in Monte Carlo and the French Open.

He has also won their last 6 meetings without dropping a set and 10 of their last 11 meetings. And the straight-set beatdown at the French Open last year was a big psychological victory for Djokovic.

So we will see how it goes the next time they meet. And that could well be in Madrid. The crowd will favor Nadal there but I don’t think it bothers Djokovic much and the higher altitude would favor him.

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In the end, I think Nadal was always going to make some kind of comeback at some point. I thought it started during the indoor season last year but then he lost the plot again for a while. Now we are back at the clay court season and this was always going to be the most likely time that he was going to shine again.

He has won the first two events of the clay court season like he did in his prime years but never had to face Djokovic at Monte Carlo who was burned out. The clay court season for me really starts in Madrid.

From there on it gets very interesting with Djokovic back. If Djokovic wins Madrid he is the firm favorite again to win the French Open. The current situation is in a way good for Djokovic. Being the top dog all the way through until the French creates its own pressure.

Kind of like last year before the US Open where Federer looked like the top dog but when it mattered Djokovic came through. I think this bit of down time for Djokovic is actually ideal. But I do think he also needs to make some statements now.

The French Open is obviously the big one for him. Last year it was the US Open under extremely trying conditions and he passed the test with flying colors. That was good preparation for what now lies ahead.

The stakes are now even higher if that is even possible and that victory will have given him a lot of confidence that he is ready for what now lies ahead.

Can’t wait for Madrid to get under way!

Is Nadal back?

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  • Highlights

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Nadal Takes the Fall to Fognini in Barcelona

It has not been the best two weeks for Fedal. Neither could pass the third round in Monte Carlo and Barcelona respectively. And of course Nadal got routined by the Djoker in Monte Carlo too. Today Nadal lost 6-4, 7-6(6) to Fognini in another shock upset. These upsets happen so regularly these days though that you can hardly call them shock upsets anymore. The reason that this loss is another new low for Nadal is because he played well in Monte Carlo and everybody was assuming he is basically back and would win Barcelona.

He had already destroyed Almagro 6-3, 6-1 in his first match, so he was looking ominous. But it looks like that loss to the Djoker in Monte Carlo may have indeed had an effect on Nadal. I have no proof of that but the Djoker shutting Nadal out 6-3, 6-3 couldn’t exactly have filled Nadal with confidence. Nadal needs every bit of confidence he can get right now and you never know how even one game can affect the outcome of the entire clay court season. Today Nadal looked out of sorts again.

  • The Match

But not by much. It takes only a slight drop of form at this level against a player who is having a good day and the upset happens. I couldn’t watch the whole match, and from what I saw Nadal was lacking a certain edge again, but Fognini deserves credit for taking full advantage of it. The first set went with serve until Nadal got broken at 4-5 while serving to stay in the set. In the second set there was a total of six breaks of serve. Nadal broke in the opening game after which Fognini broke straight back.

In the very next game Nadal broke again, only to get broken back serving at 4-3. Nadal then broke yet again in the very next game, and this time he made sure he made Fognini aware of it by running towards the net and doing three fist pumps. It didn’t appear to affect Fognini much though as he made an epic passing shot to break Nadal to 15 with Nadal serving for the second set. Priceless. Both players  proceeded to hold serve and the second set would be decided by a tie-break.

Not this man’s day

Fognini took an early 3-0 lead and at the turn he was leading 4-2. At 6-3 Fognini held three match points, but in true Fog style he wasted all three just to mess with us. Finally at 7-6 he scored the upset when Nadal drove a forehand long after a pretty average return from Fognini. So like I said Nadal was looking vulnerable again but credit to Fognini for a well played match. This is now his second consecutive win over Nadal after defeating him in Rio earlier this year.

  • What Does This Mean?

Losing a second consecutive time to Fognini on clay is a new low for Nadal, and that after he suffered a second consecutive loss to Verdasco in Miami as well. These are the kind of players he used to beat like clockwork. It sure isn’t doing his confidence wonders. Personally I didn’t necessarily think Nadal would win Barcelona, but I thought he had a great chance. I sure didn’t think he would lose in the third round. If he was going to lose I thought it’d be to Nishikori or Ferrer perhaps.

But like we saw last year Nadal lost to Ferrer in Monte Carlo and Almagro in Barcelona, so he already did better than that this year. Nadal only won one tournament in Madrid last year during the warm-up events, and probably only because Nishikori got injured in the final. Yet he still won the French Open. So I think it is too early to draw any conclusions. It would be better to draw some conclusions after Madrid and Rome, but even if he wins neither of those he can still win a tenth French Open.

Pennetta approved

The Djoker can’t be forgotten though. He is playing better than he did last year, and Nadal probably needs to win at least one of Madrid or Rome to get some confidence going for Paris. The Djoker will be fresh and ready to win both the Masters, and if he does that then he will just about be my favorite going into the French again, even after getting it wrong last year. We gotta remember that the Djoker has not exactly had an awful lot of luck in Paris since 2011, and at some point his luck is bound to turn.

  • 2011: The year the Djoker had his best shot at beating Nadal so far it just so happened that Federer played his best match of the year in the semis. Maybe his best clay court match ever.
  • 2012: I missed this match when I was working in the states but apparently Djokovic was turning the match around in the fourth set after which Nadull and his uncle Toni somehow managed to convince the officials to stop the match for a little rain, which caused the Djoker to lose his momentum.
  • 2013: This I did not miss and no one who saw it could ever forget it. This was the Djoker’s big chance when he led by a break in the fifth set, but incredibly Nadal stole it away from him again to win 9-7 in the fifth.
  • 2014: Last year I thought the Djoker would finally get it done, but he didn’t seem a 100% in the final and afterward there was footage of him vomiting on court.

Take a bow the Fog!

WTF?! The guy seems utterly cursed at the French and yet at the same time he doesn’t seem deterred in the least. I didn’t know if he would ever come back from that 2013 loss, and no doubt it affected him for another year probably in which he lost three more slam finals, and in the quarters of his best slam. But he just kept believing and finally broke through at Wimbledon and never looked back. He added two more slam titles since that fateful day and if anything it only made him stronger.

He looks better than ever probably, and a man like that is hard to keep down. His luck is bound to turn in Paris eventually and it might very well be this year, even if he has to play Nadal yet again to get it done. Nadal is more vulnerable than ever, and if Djokovic can prevent him from winning no clay titles before the French that would require Nadal to do something he has never done before, which is to win the French Open without having won a clay title in the run up to Paris…

 

  • Highlights

The  is in your court.