It’s not that time of the year when news headlines feature Roland Garros. But it’s 2020, and safe to say things have been anything but usual this year.
Tennis has its own share of unusual "2020 stories" to tell. Not that Roger Federer is out for the season, of course. Or that Novak Djokovic is still to run aground. Or that Serena Williams is still chasing Margaret Court.
Instead, the really unusual tennis stories in 2020 have been Wimbledon being called off, the unfolding of an unheard-of schedule - European clay season in the times of the Asian swing - and the celebration of a new men’s Grand Slam champion in Dominic Thiem.
While unusual, the prospects that the 2020 tennis season has ushered in are exciting and full of promise. Roland Garros has an altogether different vibe to it this season. The calendar dates have changed, of course, and so have the balls and the weather conditions.
And Rafael Nadal - the 12-time Roland Garros champion - is clearly the first one to notice that altered vibe, including the all-new roof on Mr. Chatrier’s head.
To add to Nadal’s challenge, if one has the liberty to say that, is the fact that he’s been off the court for over half a year, and that he hasn’t had the pre-RG preparation (Monte Carlo, Barcelona, Madrid) he usually makes sure never to miss before he steps into Paris.
At the Rome Masters, the one tournament he played after the lockdown was lifted, Rafael Nadal was ousted by a dogged Diego Schwartzman in the quarterfinal. That deprived the Spaniard of the precious little match practice he would have been hoping for.
Meanwhile Dominic Thiem, riding on his maiden Grand Slam success at the US Open, is raring to go. Considered as the heir apparent to Rafael Nadal, Thiem will have his shot at the Spaniard in their potential semifinal clash.
While Nadal overshadowed Thiem in the previous two Roland Garros finals, the Austrian has been the only player to beat Nadal on clay in both of the last two seasons. Additionally, Thiem has matured considerably since the last year and now has a handful of successes on the big stages.
It will be interesting to see how the Austrian reacts if he locks horn with the Bull in 2020.
Novak Djokovic, on the other hand, re-joined the tennis bandwagon right where he left it - by winning big titles. After collecting his second Cincinnati Masters to complete his Golden Masters (twice!), Djokovic proved himself his own worst nemesis at the US Open, where he was defaulted for hitting the lines judge. But he came back to the tour convincingly, winning yet another Masters at Rome.
The World No. 1 is eying his second Roland Garros title and the unprecedented Double Career Grand Slam. Going by his current form, which is anything but unusual, it is not difficult to imagine him lifting the trophy. And Rafael Nadal knows that, especially after looking at the draw where he will have to beat Thiem and Djokovic back to back for his record 20th Slam.
On a side note, what better way to join Federer on the Grand Slam list!
As the year 2020 nears its close, it still has a lot of unusual stories to offer. Roland Garros, at least on the men’s side, is brimming with all sorts of possibilities. A second Career Slam for the No. 1, third-time-lucky for the heir apparent, a first one for a dark horse - any of these things can still happen.
But 2020 so far hasn’t had the chance of meeting Rafael Nadal on Parisian clay. That is an institution that muscles into oblivion, year after year, a prospect of a new clay champion.Published 06 Oct 2020, 22:59 IST