Notes on a Draw Sheet: Nadal rising

Nadal is recovering well, but can he beat other excellent players?

Rafa Nadal won another clay tournament. Just like in Monte Carlo, his victory in Barcelona gives him 10 titles in two clay events.

In the final, he crushed Dominic Thiem. As the Belgian said, there was no way he could win when the Spaniard kept smashing into his backhand. The young Thiem can wail his strokes from behind the baseline, hitting it as hard as he can, but his one-hander gets pushed way back in the court, and it was rare that he could nail it on the lines.

Against Nadal over the past 12 years, few can do it.

The 30-year-old has now won 51 titles on clay. Rafa clearly loves it, and although he hasn’t won a Grand Slam in almost three years, but he is trying very hard. Without a doubt, Nadal has to improve his backhand and his second serve — if he wants to. But we will find out very soon because he will play at the ATP 1000 at Madrid next week and then Rome.

Hopefully, he will get a chance to match up with Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray (who lost against Thiem in the semis) to find out whether he has actually improved enough to bring down the best. If he does, the 14-time Grand Slam champion will be the favorite at Roland Garros. If he does not, at least five players can win it all — Nadal, Roger Federer, Djokovic, Murray and Stan Wawrinka.

Siegemund wins but Pliskova stalls

Out of nowhere, the 29-year-old Laura Siegemund shocked Kristina Mladenovic 6-1 2-6 7-6(5) to win Stuttgart. Two years ago, she was out of the top 100. In fact, for 10 years, she was unable to get into the top 100 at all. In 2015, finally, she did, swinging much harder than she did. It has taken her a very long time but at least she can finally say that when she is on, she can beat anyone. Well, most of them …

Mladenovic overcame Maria Sharapova in a tough marathon in the semis. The Frenchwoman is looking much better than she did before; she has always been a little bit slow and she hits some crazy shots, but when she comes to the net, she can put it away. This year, she may finally reach the top 10. But at Roland Garros she may be to nervous to make a statement.

How about Karolina Pliskova, who loses against Siegemund in Stuttgart. But, on Monday in Prague, the Czech lost in the first round against Camila Giorgi. The No. 3 Pliskova is excellent some days, and, on other days, mediocre at best. Sure, she can become No. 1 this year, but more importantly, she has to win a major. Or next year, because some people don’t think that a couple former No. 1s deserved to be super great. Look at Caro Wozniaki, who was No. 1 for almost two years, but she was unable to win a Grand Slam. Maybe she will someday —or not.

Right now, Pliskova has to do the same thing: at Roland Garros, Wimbledon and the US Open, where she has to shake off her nerves and go for it.

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