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French Open '19: 3 possible heirs to Rafael Nadal's throne

Shivam Singh
Top 5 / Top 10
2.30K   //    04 Apr 2019, 04:50 IST

Rafael Nadal - King Of Clay
Rafael Nadal - King Of Clay

Rafael Nadal needs little introduction, even to people new to the world of sports. The Spanish professional tennis player is currently ranked second on the ATP men's singles chart.

Nadal, at the age of 32, has 17 Grand Slam singles title under his belt and is only behind Roger Federer on the all-time list for Grand Slam titles. He has also won ATP Tour Masters titles 33 times, which is a record in itself.

He completed a career grand slam at the age of just 24, by winning the US Open title in 2010, and in doing so, became the second male player in the open era to achieve such a feat. Nadal has proved his world-class dominance on every surface, but his real legacy is the supremacy he has on the clay surface and because of which he is also known as the King of Clay.

Rafa has won 57 titles on the clay court, which is the most by any player in the open era including a record 11 French Open titles. And because of these accomplishments, Barcelona Open renamed the center court to Pista Rafa Nadal in 2017.

Injuries have occasionally halted the glorious career of Nadal, with 2014 to 2017 being the most profoundly affected. He lost a lot of matches and his rankings dropped, but it all came to an end with Nadal coming back to full fitness and finally winning a Grand Slam title after three years.

After winning two Grand Slam titles in 2017 out of three finals, another Ronald Garros win, along with reaching the semifinals in two occasions in 2018, it appeared as if vintage Nadal was back. His run to the finals at the Australian Open 2019 was a masterclass with all the victories coming in straight sets. But he was defeated by Novak Djokovic, as things didn't pan out the way he would have hoped. 

The defeat was not a surprise as Djokovic's form in the last year made him the tournament favourite, but was a cause of concern was the ease with which Rafa was defeated; his first straight-set loss in a Grand Slam final.

BNP Paribas Open - Day 13
BNP Paribas Open - Day 13

Injuries have derailed Nadal this current season, restricting him to only two final appearances in 2019, and his recent injury at Indian Wells Masters seems more alarming. And as the biggest tournament on a clay surface is on the horizon, the possibility of a title change is ever more promising.


So three contenders that are most likely to breach Nadal's empire at Roland Garros.

#3 Karen Khachanov

Karen Khachanov won Rolex Paris Masters 2018
Karen Khachanov won Rolex Paris Masters 2018

The Russian is currently ranked 12th on the men's tennis ATP rankings. At the age of just 22, he has won four ATP singles titles.

Karen Khachanov has showed a lot of promise, but the promises have started delivering since the start of 2018. In February, he won his second ATP title, and in August, he made his first semifinal appearance at an ATP Masters 1000 tournament. 

Karen announced himself to the world in the US Open 2018 third round tie against Rafael Nadal where he played a marathon four-set match against the defending champion.

The performances were improving, but something unexpected was just around the corner. In November, he went on to win his first ATP Masters 1000 tournament at Rolex Paris Masters. Winning the title was a huge achievement, but his path to glory was an even more fascinating one. He defeated John Isner, Alexander Zverev, Dominic Thiem, and finally Novak Djokovic on his way to winning the title.

Djokovic was hugely impressed by the Russians performance and later on praised Khachanov for the title victory.

" I want to talk about how well he played all week. He absolutely deserved to win the match today. So all the credit to him, he deserves it. He’s a young player, up and coming, but already an established player, a top player. And he showed great quality today and he showed why we’re going to see a lot of him in the future."
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