Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 30 May 2020

Rafael Nadal back in hunt of Roger Federer’s grand slam record: French Open talking points

As the Spaniard celebrated his own La Decima at Roland Garros, Ahmed Rizvi looks at some of the key takeaways from this year’s French Open.

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Nadal is still the King of Clay

“In 2005, I thought in 2017 I’d be fishing on my boat in Mallorca,” said Rafael Nadal after winning his 10th French Open title, and 15th major, with a 6-2, 6-3, 6-1 defeat of Stan Wawrinka on Sunday.

“I didn’t really think I’d have such a long career and win so many tournaments,” added the Spaniard, who, when he was 19, was advised to choose an alternate career after a diagnosis showed a congenital disease had deformed his tarsal scaphoid (the bridge of his foot).

Nadal, though, does not look close to being done yet. Certainly not after the way he demolished Wawrinka. Or Dominic Thiem earlier in the semis.

The question is: how many more French Open titles can he win before he eventually decides to go fishing on his boat in Mallorca? The answer might not be such a comforting thought for Roger Federer. The Swiss’ record of 18 grand slam titles looks under renewed threat.

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Thiem is heir-in-waiting

Honestly, who can really stop Nadal at Roland Garros? Dominic Thiem, perhaps? Who else?

Among the Generation Next, only Thiem seems to possess the game to challenge Nadal on clay. The Austrian was the only man to beat Nadal in 25 matches on European clay courts this season, but the Spaniard crushed him at Roland Garros, winning the third set of their semi-final 6-0.

Nadal owns those Paris courts, having lost only twice in 81 matches. Thiem just has to be patient. If you could pick Nadal’s heir apparent on clay, it would be Thiem.

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Djokovic’s struggles continue

As the tennis world celebrates Nadal’s “decima”, spare a thought for Novak Djokovic.

Twelve months ago, he was the toast of the tennis world after becoming the first man in nearly half a century to hold all four grand slam titles at the same time. Now, he looks a shadow of his former indomitable self.

“It looks right now as if Djokovic doesn’t want to be on the court,” former world No 1 John McEnroe said.

That might sound harsh, but it seems true. Looks like Djokovic could do with a break. Though injury-enforced, time away from the courts last year did help Federer.

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Glass half-full, or ...

Before the start of this year’s French Open, Simona Halep was asked who she thought was favourite to win the women’s title. “About 15 players,” she replied.

She might as well have said 50, for Jelena Ostapenko, the world No 47, eventually won the title, defeating Halep, hitting 54 winners and committing an equal number of unforced errors in the three-set finale.

For Ostapenko, 20, this was her first tour-level title – the last time she lifted a trophy was in 2015 at an ITF 50K Challenger in St Petersburg.

Should we be surprised at her triumph? Probably not. In the absence of Serena Williams, Maria Sharapova and Victoria Azarenka as well, it is an open field in women’s tennis.

Ostapenko’s success, then, is either an ode to the WTA Tour’s depth, or an evidence of its unpredictability.

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Can Ostapenko avoid a repeat of Muguruza?

Over the past two decades, the French Open has given us more one-slam champions than the other three majors combined: Iva Majoli in 1997, Anastasia Myskina in 2004, Ana Ivanovic in 2008 and Francesca Schiavone in 2010.

So while we celebrate Ostapenko’s triumph, it would be wise not to go overboard. Especially not after the way Garbine Muguruza, the 2016 French Open champion, has struggled over the past 12 months.

Both Muguruza and Ostapenko are young though and have long careers ahead of them. So hopefully, they will not end up on the one-slam wonders list, but there are no guarantees in women’s tennis.

arizvi@thenational.ae

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Updated: June 12, 2017 04:00 AM

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