Rafael Nadal, who holds a record 21 Grand Slams, will start as one of the favorites to win the French Open, which gets underway on Sunday. Nadal has won 13 titles on the red dirt in Paris but lost to eventual winner Novak Djokovic in the semifinals last year.
The Spaniard, who turns 36 in June, has not won a title on clay this season. However, he started the year on a great note by winning three titles in a row, including the Australian Open in January. Still, he is not getting any younger and will be determined to win the French Open possibly one last time.
On that note, let’s take a look at three factors that are crucial to Rafael Nadal's success at the 2022 French Open.
#1 Being injury-free
The signs of aging are becoming increasingly evident for Nadal, who has been suffering from a rib injury this year. Of more concern has been the re-emergence of a foot injury that initially flared up during last year’s French Open.
Nadal looked to be in pain for a considerable portion of his match against Denis Shapovalov in Rome.
He will be motivated to win the title at his favorite Major, but his body must keep up with his inner resolve. Staying injury-free, or more realistically, managing his chronic foot injury, is of paramount importance to the Spaniard if he is to win his 22nd Grand Slam title in Paris.
Nadal had earlier revealed that he would travel to Paris along with his doctor to better manage the injury.
#2 Being lethal with his forehand and building on momentum during matches
Over the course of his career, Rafael Nadal has gradually become more aggressive as far as his playing style is concerned. He attacks a lot more with his forehand these days than he did when he was younger.
Hence, Nadal’s forehand becomes crucial for him to put pressure on his opponents. His crosscourt forehand, which he hits with a prodigious amount of top spin, usually puts pressure on his opponent’s backhand and he then finishes the rally with a down-the-line winner or a powerful inside-out forehand.
However, in his loss to Carlos Alcaraz at the Madrid Open, Nadal could only hit 10 winners. He will have to be more lethal with his forehand in Paris.
The aging Nadal cannot afford to play too many five-setters at Roland Garros. Playing longer matches would definitely put his fitness to a stern test and hence, he has to build on momentum as and when he gains it.
Nadal won the second set 6-1 against Alcaraz in Madrid as the latter suffered an injury scare, but he allowed his younger compatriot to make a comeback and win the match. He won the first set against Shapovalov in Rome, only to see the Canadian prevail in the next two.
If Rafael Nadal is to win in Paris, he cannot afford such slip-ups and must be more clinical.
#3 The quality of his potential opponents
The French Open draw has been made and Rafael Nadal is poised to face Jordan Thompson of Australia in the first round. While that promises to be a relatively easy match, things will certainly get harder for the Spaniard if he goes deeper into the tournament as Djokovic and Alcaraz have been placed in the same half of the draw.
This means that Nadal could potentially face Djokovic, the man who has beaten him twice at Roland Garros as early as the quarterfinals. Should Nadal be able to overcome that obstacle, he could find Alcaraz lying in wait in the semifinals.
Hence, Rafael Nadal will have to grind his way to a potential 22nd Grand Slam title unless a major upset takes place early on in the tournament. However, a motivated Djokovic and a buoyant Alcaraz are unlikely to lose early and we can certainly expect to see some high-voltage clashes from the quarterfinals onwards.