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2020 French Open could present a formidable challenge to Rafael Nadal

  • The rescheduled 2020 French Open is poised to present new challenges for 12-time champion Rafael Nadal.
  • Furthermore, the absence of claycourt tournaments prior to the French Open may adversely impact Nadal's performance at the claycourt major.
Rohan Dua
CONTRIBUTOR
Feature
Modified 14 Jun 2020, 01:11 IST
2019 French Open - Day Fifteen
2019 French Open - Day Fifteen

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought every major global sporting event to a standstill. The 124th edition of the French Open has been one such victim of the pandemic. It was scheduled to take place from 24th May to 7th June but was pushed back by four months. It will now be held from 20th September to 4th October 2020, just a week after the end of the US Open.

While the French Open has been lucky to have its schedule changed, fate was not so kind to the Wimbledon Championships. The entire grass court season was wiped out from the 2020 ATP calendar year.

The unilateral rescheduling of the French Open by the French Tennis Federation (FFT), however, has sparked a furore. Many questioned the merits of the decision as the new dates of the French Open are now clashing with the Asian swing of the ATP tour. The China Open, Japan Open, Shanghai Rolex Masters and the recently-introduced Laver Cup, the brainchild of Roger Federer, would either have to be cancelled or postponed, but that is a discussion for another day. 

As is the case with other sportsmen, the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted the schedules of tennis players too. All of them have been confined to their homes, but come September, they would need to be ready for action and be in top gear. This is because Madison Square Garden in New York would host the second Grand Slam tournament of the 2020 season.

For the first time in history, the tour will then move in the opposite direction across the Atlantic. Just a week after the completion of the truncated North American summer hardcourt season, the tennis bandwagon would move to Paris for the French Open, the final Grand Slam tournament of the year.

2020 French Open could be the biggest test for Rafael Nadal:

Would Rafael Nadal be able to win the rescheduled 2020 French Open?
Would Rafael Nadal be able to win the rescheduled 2020 French Open?

In my perception, the 2020 French Open would be the biggest test of the King of Clay, Rafael Nadal’s illustrious career. Let us consider the factors that might impinge his performance at his beloved tournament, which is sceduled to take place later this year.

Firstly, his preparation would be inadequate for a lack of any tournaments on clay preceding the French Open. All tournaments that are part of the spring clay court season, including Masters 1000 tournaments in Monte Carlo, Madrid and Rome stand cancelled. Therefore, Nadal might find it difficult to get into his elements at the French Open without any prior action on the red clay.

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Secondly, the abrupt change in surface from fast hard court to slow clay court in a short turnaround period of one week would be disconcerting for all players, including Rafael Nadal. In this context, there are indications as per the opinion of some analysts that Nadal might skip the US Open to focus on the French Open.

2019 French Open - Rafael Nadal exults after winning his 12th title at the tournament.
2019 French Open - Rafael Nadal exults after winning his 12th title at the tournament.

Thirdly, the weather in Paris in September-October is likely to hamper Rafael Nadal’s performance on Court Philippe Chatrier. Over the years, it has been seen that in the series of tournaments that follow the US Open, Nadal has not been very successful. 

The humidity levels in Paris in October are higher than in May and June. According to 'MeteoFrance', a French meteorological service, the average relative humidity in Paris in September and October is 76 and 82 respectively as compared to 70 and 69 in May and June respectively.

As was seen earlier at in the Australian Open in January this year, when the humidity was quite high, Nadal's game suffered a lot. Rafael Nadal’s style of play is adversely impacted in humid weather conditions. He tends to sweat a lot more on the court. 

On the other hand, Nadal thrives in dry, windy and less humid conditions. Paris in the middle of the calendar year provides just the right conditions for Nadal as his topspin gets a much higher bounce than normal. That pushes his opponents to the back of the court thereby giving Nadal the upper-hand during rallies.

Rafael Nadal at the French Open
Rafael Nadal at the French Open

All these factors aid Nadal’s style of play and help him assert his dominance over opponents on the red clay. In September-October, however, in the absence of these factors, Nadal might find it difficult to adapt to the changed weather conditions.

Lastly, this also happens to be the year when the retractable roof is going to be used for the first time at Court Philippe Chatrier. That will play a significant part in how matches are going to pan out for the players. Rain delays in previous editions of the French Open have certainly played a part in Nadal’s victories on many occasions.

Nadal is known to cope with rain delays more effectively than any other player. Countless times, Nadal has turned around matches from losing positions after rain delays, especially on the clay at the French Open. The 2012 final against Novak Djokovic and the 2018 quarterfinal against Diego Schwartzman are some notable instances in this regard.

This time around, however, there would be no rain delays because of the retractable roof at the French Open. Thus, it would be interesting to see how Nadal regroups when he is down in a match. Since lack of wind in an indoor environment will make Nadal's topspin less effective, playing indoors would pose yet another challenge to Nadal.

Nadal's sheer will power, mental toughness, determination to win and never say die spirit may not be enough for him to defend his title this year at the French Open for the reasons stated above. I, for one, would like to see him triumph, but I am keeping my fingers crossed.

Published 14 Jun 2020, 01:11 IST
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