2019 Clay Court Season Preview: Rafael Nadal might not replicate last year's success as competition heats up
For long, Rafael Nadal has been the single most dominant force during the clay season, as exemplified by his 11 French Open titles. An overwhelming majority of his Masters 1000 titles too have come on clay.
Though his two great rivals, Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic have had some success against him at the Masters level, they have failed to make any impact whatsoever in the only Grand Slam played on clay against him. Federer has not won a single match against Nadal in the French Open, while Djokovic has only won once, that too in a semi-final, only to go down to Stan Wawrinka in the final.
In the last couple of years, Dominic Thiem has been Nadal’s closest competitor on clay. He has, in fact, been the only player in the last two years who has been able to beat Nadal on clay.
With Roger Federer deciding to play on clay this year having skipped the clay season in recent years, the upcoming clay court season promises to be a treat for the fans of tennis in general, and especially to the millions of fans of the big three.
Though Nadal is still the favourite to win most of the clay court Masters, if not all, and also a twelfth French Open, Novak Djokovic on current form will most likely pose the biggest challenge to the king of clay.
For both the Serbian World Number One and the Swiss maestro, a second career title at the French Open will give them the bragging rights of being the only player in the Open era to have won each grand slam at least two times.
Though Federer may seem to have less of a chance, it should be kept in mind that he is a great clay court player himself. If not for Nadal, he would have won multiple French Open slams.
During his heyday, he was the second best player on clay and continues to be a very good clay court player even now. He may surprise the tennis world by winning a Masters 1000 or the Barcelona 500 ATP Open this year.
Though Thiem has not been in the best of form this season so far, if he is fully fit, he certainly has it in him to cause a few upsets. Alexander Zverev may have still not cracked the Grand Slam code yet, but he has certainly made his mark at the Masters level. He can certainly emulate his 2018 success and win another clay court title this year.
But the biggest threat to the dominance of the king of clay this season will most certainly come from Novak Djokovic. He is back to his very best. If at all, his serve is better than what it was during the 2016 halcyon days and his overhead smash, a shot that was ridiculed by his former coach Boris Becker, has become better too. He has the game, the skills and the stamina to engage Nadal in long rallies on clay, and can certainly beat Nadal in his own game.
All in all, the 2019 clay court season promises to be the most open in recent years. With Djokovic and Federer, along with Zverev and Thiem ready to challenge Nadal on his favourite turf, it’s going to be a great ride for the tennis fans this clay season. Bring it on.