Ole Madrid: Who can take on Nadal?

Stefanos Tsitsipas

Rafa Nadal loves clay. The Spaniard has won it everything, at Monte Carlo, Barcelona, Madrid, Rome and Roland Garros. But, over the last couple weeks, he lost to Fabio Fognini in the semis in France, and then he went down in Spain against Dominic Thiem.

In mid-March, at Indian Wells on hardcourts, he pulled out in the semis because his right knee felt pain, and he was injured — again. On April 17, he was ready to play again, Nadal said: “I can’t pretend that I don’t have pain at all, because I never thought about that. It’s a long time ago that professional players play normally with pain, because that’s part of the sport at the highest level.”

Well, then, he will find out pretty quickly, because at the 2018 Madrid, Nadal actually lost to Thiem again in Madrid. After he lost in Barcelona, Nadal said, “After this week, my confidence is back.”

Really? But he lost twice in a row on his favorite surface. He has been dominating over 13 years, but perhaps he is getting older, so maybe he knows that he cannot win too often, or maybe he is thinking that his legs aren’t that solid.

But, remember back at 2018, Nadal won Rome over Novak Djokovic and Alexander Zverev, and then at RG, the Spaniard flipped Thiem in the final 6-4 6-3 6-2. Nadal knows exactly what he wants to in France, which is why he has won 11 Roland Garros titles.

The reason why is because he, Roger Federer (20 majors) and Djokovic (15 majors) are in great shape and super smart. Most importantly, they really like playing 3 of the 5 sets, rather than just 2 out of 3. In the fifth, they won’t become too tired, while others — who have yet to win a Slam —  will. The 25-year-old Thiem knows he can win a major, but he really has to dig very deep.

Three guys are missing and hurt: John Isner, Kevin Anderson and Milos Raonic. Will the tall men play at RG? Up in the air, because all of them like grass over clay. It’s about foot speed on clay and huge serves on grass.

Federer and Thiem could face off in the quarters. Nadal could go up against Kei Nishikori in the quarters, which could be a blast to watch. The frequency injured Juan Martin del Potro is finally back and will play in Madrid.

Stefanos Tsitsipas just won Estoril and now he is ranked No. 9.  On hard courts, the young man looks terrific, but on clay, he is figuring how to construct points. That was a good week in Estoril, but now he has to beat a number of excellent players. In the next month, we will see how darn good Tsitsipas will be.