The loss at Madrid against Fernando Verdasco left all his fans disappointed, he on the other hand, trained in endurance and humility, learnt from that experience. He, just as all of us and his competitors, knows that he is the best player to play on the red surface. After being jolted time and again by the unstoppable Serbian tennis machine last year and in this year’s Australian Open, he bounced back when they battled on his court. Winning Monte Carlo Masters record eight consecutive times, defeating his rival for the first time in eight encounters (all in Finals) in the process. He topped up with a majestic win at Barcelona. But if any complacency crept in his mind with these victories, it was rightfully washed out by the defeat against his fellow countryman on the new blue clay of Madrid, losing his No.2 World Ranking to the Former World No.1 Tennis great Roger Federer. Heading to Roma, the King of Clay had his hands full as he faced the same man who was pretty much undefeated last year. But he was oozing with confidence and despite of some lousy tennis from his side he won in straight sets, winning the title for sixth time – The tenacious Rafael Nadal captured his 21st ATP Masters 1000 title and his No.2 Rank, giving him confidence to head to Roland Garros, the championship which he owns, for his seventh title.
I saw the match between Nadal and Djokovic at the Monte Carlo Masters 1000 finals and witnessed some difference in strategy employed by Nadal for the first time against the World No.1. Almost every time Nadal will go for the backhand corner of his opponent when he served, but this time around Nadal peppered his serve to Djokovic forehand. Many of the experts believed that the win at the Monte Carlo Country Club was because of this new way of serving that Nadal had appointed. Nadal for the entire match didn’t serve even once on the backhand corner of the Serb. My anxiety was at peak on Sunday as I awaited the match to begin, only to find out that it was rescheduled to Monday noon. While watching the match between Nadal and Djokovic for the Internazionali BNL d’Italia Championship I put the serve theory to test. This time however Nadal served the way he usually does, but also mixing it well with some body serves and serves to Djokovic’s forehand. Nadal played a positive game despite of the fact that he was not serving all that well. His serve was broken only once in the match despite of the fact that both Djokovic and Nadal got the same number of opportunities to break the other’s serve. Nowhere in a match is Nadal’s mental and emotional strength more on display than when his back is against the wall facing break point on his serve and he showed that getting a breakpoint against him on clay is one thing and converting it is altogether a different proposition. Nadal, who usually is found scrambling on the baseline was seen to go up to the net and volley, showing the attitude the man is made of.
Nadal now goes into Roland Garros, where he will attempt to lift the trophy for the seventh time, with a 16-1 record on clay this season. The journey to the seventh title will not be easy, Nadal will surely take the momentum to the second grand slam of the season but his rivals in Djokovic, Federer and even Murray, who can become a dark horse and make it tough for his opponents, will surely have everything to play for as Nadal will be under pressure since he comes in as the Defending Champion and the second seed. The draws will be released on 25th May. Keep watching this space for the news from the French Open