The three-way race for the Grand Slam leaderboard in men’s tennis has never been any closer. Only three titles separate the legendary trio of Roger Federer (20), Rafael Nadal (19) and Novak Djokovic(17). And with the form that the Serb is displaying at the ongoing US Open, there doesn’t seem to be much doubt that he will win his 18th Major and get to within just one of Rafael Nadal.
With just weeks to go for Roland Garros to begin, many believe that Rafael Nadal would be desperate to win his 13th title there this year. By doing that he would not only increase the gap between Djokovic and himself, but also go level with Federer’s record tally.
Former French Open champion Mats Wilander, however, doesn’t feel that the Spaniard would be under any pressure because of that. In a recent interview with El Pais, Wilander gave his thoughts on the Grand Slam tally race, and sympathized with Nadal’s decision to withdraw from the US Open - even though he believes the Spaniard could have won both the Majors.
Rafael Nadal is sending us a message by withdrawing from the US Open: Mats Wilander
Rafael Nadal’s decision to withdraw from this year’s US Open was on largely expected lines. The Spaniard had repeatedly voiced his concerns about the health and safety issues surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, and he never seemed convinced about the practicality of playing a tournament in the US at a time when the health crisis was still raging on.
That said, many experts have speculated that the Spaniard's foremost motivation to forego the New York Slam was to start his claycourt preparations early. With not much time between the US Open and the start of the clay season, Nadal wouldn't have had enough time to make the switch or be in top physical shape for his favorite period of the calendar.
The bottom line is that while Rafael Nadal has given himself the best possible chance to win Roland Garros, his withdrawal from the US Open has opened up the path for Novak Djokovic to win his 18th Major and shorten the gap.
Djokovic going to Paris with 18 Slams could have perhaps played on the mind of Rafael Nadal, but Wilander doesn't think so. According to the Swede, Nadal merely sent out a message to everyone by not participating at the US Open: that he was more concerned about the present than the history books
“If Novak arrived in Paris with 18 titles [the Spanish has 19 and the Swiss 20] it would be interesting, but I think that by giving up New York, Rafa is sending us a message,” Wilander said. “He's telling us, 'Hey, that's not my ambition, my goal. I'm not trying to be the best in the history books, I'm trying to be the best today, now, that's why I don't travel there'."
Wilander, however, is totally on board with Rafael Nadal’s decision. He believes that Nadal could have won both the US Open and the French Open, but the given the circumstances it was justified to prioritize the latter.
“It would surely hurt your chances of winning later at Roland Garros. I think he could win both, but he has a reason,” Wilander added. “There must be a feeling, you must want to go above everything, more than being physically prepared or not.”Published 05 Sep 2020, 20:36 IST