Three weeks after the heartbreaking loss at the Australian Open finals, Rafael Nadal is back to the tennis courts again. And he returns on his favorite surface, clay, in the new stop on the ATP tour – Rio Open.
Almost a year back, Nadal began his comeback from a seven month layoff on this very same surface, in Chile. It went on to be one his most successful seasons on tour, where he ended the year in style, ranked the number one player in the world.
Rafael Nadal on clay is the most efficient you can see a player on a tennis court. Nadal has a staggering winning percentage of 93.91% on matches played on clay, which is the highest by any player on a particular surface. In comparison, the second highest is Roger Federer on grass and even he stands at 87.14%.Nadal also owns a 42-6 record in clay court finals and has only lost one match on clay when it is best-of-five. But, more than the stats, the sheer way in which he dominates his opponents and dismantles them, is a treat to watch for a tennis aficionado.
Nadal is still at the top spot now, but unlike last year, he’s no longer going to be entering tournaments where he isn’t defending any points. After reaching 14 finals of 17 tournaments he participated in last year and winning ten of them, Nadal is going to be defending a lot of points during the course of the year. And it is going to be a tough task.
Entering Rio seems to be a very sensible decision on Nadal’s part on various counts. By his own admission, the loss in Melbourne was more difficult to digest than his other losses, and returning on a surface where he’s had the most success in his career would be an ideal way to give a fresh boost to his campaign, which is still in the early stages of the season.
Second, it is also a good opportunity to test his back, before the ATP masters tournaments in March. Nadal skipped the tournament in Buenos Aries with a stomach virus, and he might take some time to get adjusted to playing with full intensity again. What better place to get adjusted, than the welcoming clay courts.
Coming to the draw, there are no real challengers to Nadal. He faces fellow Spaniard Daniel Gimeno-Traver and has Marcel Granollers and Tommy Robredo as potential quarterfinal and semifinal opponents, respectively. David Ferrer, Nicolas Almagro and Fabio Fognini are in the other side of the draw and none of them have ever been even remotely a threat to Nadal, especially on clay.
While it might look like a cakewalk on paper to title number 62, it might not necessarily be so. A lot is going to depend on how physically fit Nadal is going to be. He will have to shake off any rustiness he’s had and start firing on all cylinders from the word ‘play’.
Nadal should go deep in this tournament, and unless some serious misfortune occurs, should emerge as the victor. Regardless of the result, the fans in Rio, will for sure, be entertained seeing the master on clay, no?
– Abhishek Desikan [Abhishek is a Sports Analyst for the Tennis Galaxy. He tweets here.]