In the recently-concluded Masters 1000 event at Montreal, Rafael Nadal comprehensively breezed past his Russian challenger Daniil Medvedev 6-3, 6-0 in just 70 minutes in the final to clinch his record-extending 35th Masters 1000 title. In the process, he also recorded his 5th Canadian Masters title victory, thus successfully defending a hardcourt title for the first time ever in his career.
The Spaniard subsequently withdrew from the Western and Southern Open at Cincinnati following his victory at Rogers Cup in a bid to keep himself fresh and healthy ahead of the all-important final Grand Slam of the year – the US Open.
With Novak Djokovic winning the Australian Open earlier this year and sensationally edging past Roger Federer to win the Wimbledon Championships, the Serb has amassed 16 Majors and is now within touching distance of Nadal’s and Federer’s tally of 18 and 20 Grand Slam triumphs respectively.
Being the youngest member of the ‘Big 3’ and with tremendous mental toughness that the Serb portrays, Djokovic surely has more chances to win Grand Slam titles as compared to his rivals. He would surely fancy becoming the holder of the highest number of Grand Slam singles titles in the history of men’s tennis before he decides to call it a day.
As far as Nadal is concerned, his 12 triumphs on the red dirt of Paris has already become a part of not only tennis history, but it is also a monumental and epic achievement in the history of sports in general.
While the Spaniard has been invincible at the French Open, he has struggled against his arch-rivals Djokovic and Federer at all the other Grand Slams, falling agonizingly short against them each time in the recent past.
With Djokovic winning four out of the last five Majors and Nadal holding firm with the French Open crown yet again this year, the three-way race towards winning the highest number of men’s singles Grand Slam titles has never been so tantalizingly close ever before. And this captivating and fascinating chase towards becoming the greatest of all time will be resumed yet again when the ‘Big 3’ of men’s tennis will hit the hardcourts of Flushing Meadows in New York for the last Major of 2019.
However, one factor that holds the aces for the fortunes of this race and can very much define the outcome is whether the ‘King of Clay’ Rafael Nadal can win any Grand Slam outside of his fortress, Roland Garros.
In 2010, at the age of 24, Nadal won the French Open, Wimbledon and the US Open in a single year and in the process, also completed his career Grand Slam following his first ever US Open title triumph when he bettered Djokovic in the final at the Arthur Ashe stadium.
But, ever since then, the Spaniard has managed to bag just two more Grand Slam titles outside of Roland Garros – the US Open in 2013 and 2017.
Analyzing the patterns of how Nadal has fared at the Majors, especially since his return to form at the Australian Open, back in 2017, it is evident that while he has achieved tremendous success against all other players, irrespective of the surface, the 18-time Grand Slam champion has fallen short time and again against Federer and Djokovic in the closing stages of the tournament.
And the most glaring and recent examples have been Wimbledon and Australian Open 2019 where the Spaniard played incredible tennis in the lead up to his semi-final and final clashes against Federer and Djokovic respectively, but succumbed to his rivals, thereby bringing an end to his hopes of winning a Grand Slam outside of the French Open.
Moreover, in general, outside of clay, Nadal has been having a horrendous run against both Federer and Djokovic in the recent past. While Nadal’s last victory over Djokovic on non-clay surfaces came way back six years ago when the Spaniard beat Djokovic to win his 2nd US Open crown in 2013, he last won against Federer on a non-clay surface at the Australian Open in 2014.
Since the start of 2017, Nadal has suffered painful defeats twice at the Grand Slam level events at the hands of Djokovic and Federer each and especially against the Serb, the Spaniard looked clueless in his humiliating straight-sets defeat in the final of Australian Open earlier this year.
The Spaniard, at the age of 33, is injury prone like never before and with a physically demanding style of play that he brings to the table, it might be extremely difficult for Nadal to win a Major outside of Roland Garros if he has to go through either Djokovic or Federer.
However, he might just still have a realistic chance of winning a Grand Slam title other than the French Open if he does not face either Federer or Djokovic in his journey towards the title.
It would be intriguing to witness the journeys of the 'Big 3' yet again at the upcoming US Open. Having not defeated either Federer or Djokovic for quite a while now on a hardcourt, can the Spaniard tame his biggest rivals to script a fascinating story of his 4th US Open title triumph?
One just can't wait for the US Open 2019 to get underway!Published 13 Aug 2019, 18:34 IST