I don’t usually make a prediction in my title, but I thought I’d have some fun. I don’t see how Nadal can make a clean sweep in the clay court season like he did last year. There are quite a few reasons for me saying so. First of all, he has already played a lot of tennis of late, making the finals on hard court in India Wells and Miami. Therefor I am surprised that he is playing a full clay court schedule which includes Barcelona this week. After that he will have one week off, and then it is the Madrid/Rome double, after which he will have another week off before the French Open. That is a lot of tennis. I thought he learned his lesson, having skipped Barcelona last year. It really amazes me that he keeps playing these events that he doesn’t need to play. The full schedule is one reason I can’t see him sweeping the clay season again.
It is just too much tennis, and he is bound to get tired. In fact, he already looked tired in Monte Carlo. This brings me to another reason why I feel he won’t sweep the clay season. He just doesn’t look to be in top form. The match against Murray reminded me of the 2009 final where he beat Djokovic in three sets. He just didn’t look as invincible as he usually does on clay. He didn’t impress me much in the final either. He won in in straight sets, but it was against someone who he usually beats easily on clay. It was a pretty close match. I think the fact that Madrid has been shifted before Rome will help Nadal however. Madrid in the caly event where Nadal is most beatable because it is at altitude. And the fact that it used to be just before the French Open didn’t help him. A prime example was 2009, where he also played a full schedule and then was exhausted at Madrid.
He lost to Roger in the final of Madrid and consequently lost against Soderling at the French Open as well. This time Madrid is before Rome and it will be after Nadal has had a week of rest. Still, I think Madrid is the event where he will be most vulnerable. I think he will probably get beaten by Djokovic there. If not then he may fall in Rome. This doesn’t mean that I think we will have a repeat of 2009 concerning the French Open. Back then Nadal had family issues which influenced him on the court. Still, I think it would have been better for him to skip Barcelona and remain unbeaten in the clay season. Now I believe he will lose at least one match, which would make him more vulnerable in Paris, even if it is just a little bit. He will also be more tired. It doesn’t mean he won’t win the French, but it may give a few select guys an outside chance of upsetting him there.
Is Roger one of those select few guys? I wouldn’t put my money on it. The one that stands out now is Djokovic, but as we saw in 2009, some unexpected player could upset him too. Don’t forget about Del Potro. I believe he can upset Nadal on clay if he is in top form. It’s hard to see Soderling doing it again. Murray has already shown he can take at least a set off Nadal. I won’t bet on Roger because of his history with Nadal. It is just too much of a match up issue for him. The kind of guy who stands a chance against Nadal in clay is a guy with a solid two handed backhand and preferably some other weapons as well. That’s why Djokovic is a prime candidate. Murray has already shown that with a solid backhand Nadal can be put under pressure. Ferrer couldn’t do the same because his backhand is not in the same league as Murray, who probably has the best backhand on tour.
I’m sorry to say it, but Ferrer has no flair. He is the kind of player that Nadal will eat for breakfast on clay time and time again. Djokovic has pretty much every shot, he has the movement, and he has enough flair. I don’t believe Nadal was nearly at his best at Monte Carlo, and the fact that Djokovic did not play Monte Carlo now seems like a smarter move than ever. He will be totally rested when his clay court campaign gets underway, while Nadal will already be pretty much exhausted. Everything now points to the fact that Djokovic will beat Nadal at least once during the clay court season. Getting back to Roger, I’m not setting my expectations very hight at this point. I have come to the point where I feel he has achieved everything I wanted him to, and whatever he achieves from here on is just a bonus.
It will be more like a nice surprise to me now if he wins something big. So for now I don’t see him winning any titles this clay season. His best chance will probably be at Madrid again, where the faster conditions will suit him. At the French Open I hope he makes at least semi-finals to improve upon last year’s result. Anything better than that would be a bonus. He will be either in Nadal or Djokovic’s half of the draw, which will make it hard for him to make the final. Then he has to hope he doesn’t get someone like Del Potro in his quarter, or Murray or Soderling for that matter. But for now I will give him the benefit of the doubt that he can beat those guys. The tough opponents on clay for him will be the ones that can pressure his backhand like Melzer did in Monte Carlo. Therefor it’s very hard to see him beat Djokovic or Nadal.