As Nadal appears to struggle, we consider if it's time to panic. The Rome Masters this week is his last chance at a major clay-court title and to quell naysayers before he gets set to defend his French Open crown.
Is Nadal Struggling?
The 2015 French Open is merely a fortnight away. By this time, typically, Nadal has a few clay court titles under his belt. Aside from picking up a 250 ATP title in South America, Nadal is conspicuously without a title from the European clay court swing. He suffered a 6-4, 6-4 defeat to Djokovic in the Monte Carlo semis (Djokovic went on to win the title). He then lost to Fabio Fognini (for the second time this season, no less) in the third round of Barcelona. Last week, after playing his best match of the season in the semis when he beat Tomas Berdych, he came up severely short in the Madrid final with Andy Murray.
Overall, it was a very nervous and subpar effort in the final by Nadal, made all the disappointing because he was playing in his native Spain before his beloved fans. He was the significant home favorite and defending champion as well. But nothing went his way. Not even the very pro-Nadal crowd that tried to will him into the match to no avail with their frequent "Rafa" chants, and which took on a hint of desperation midway through the second set, could help.
Whether Nadal's confidence was shaky on the day is something only he truly knows. What we know though is only what we witnessed on that day. That is he didn't play up to his lofty standards and – it must be said – Andy Murray played within himself and never let Nadal get into the match. In fact, Andy Murray deserves a lot of credit for the way he handled the occasion and his fearsome opponent en route to his first clay-court Masters title. What's most amazing about it too is that the No.1 Scott only just won his first clay-court title in Munich the week prior to Madrid. In a rain-delayed final on Monday, no less.
Panic Is Premature
Although Nadal and his fans alike were extremely dejected by the loss, it's not all-out panic-mode on the tennis betting floor. At a reasonable +225 tennis odds to win it all, he's still amongst the favorites and will remain a popular tennis pick. Granted not the top favorite (that province belongs to Djokovic as the -125 favorite on the French Open odds board) but the second favorite overall. Falling down a ladder rung hardly constitutes pandemonium, does it?
Simply put, not for nothing is Nadal considered the King of Clay. One can't overlook the fact that Nadal boasts a 66-1 record in Paris; his only defeat dating back to the R16 in 2009 when he lost to Robin Soderling. That run of form amounts to nine French Open titles and four straight since 2010. And it proves just how difficult he is to beat in the best-of-five scenario at the majors, especially on clay.
He's the only player in the history of the game to win a major nine times. He also won eight times at Monte Carlo and seven times in Rome, which is incidentally the current tournament trading on the tennis betting board and his last shot at a title before the French Open gets underway on May 24th.
After Nadal failed in his title defence in Madrid this weekend, falling to Andy Murray in straight sets, he fell to his lowest ATP ranking in a decade. He's down to World No. 7. Yikes.
If there were anything that could have an impact on the French Open it's that fall in the rankings. Who knows where Rafael Nadal' will fall in the French Open draw as a result and how much tougher of a path to the final he'll be given as a result.
Tennis Betting Verdict:
Can Nadal find the form that earned him the title of King of Clay in Rome? Or will Novak Djokovic emerge champion when the dust settles in the Eternal City; thereby, in the process, underscoring his tennis odds on the French Open futures odds board as the player to beat. These are the questions that are being examined this week.
By Sunday, the answer will be written in the red clay. It'll be either Djokovic drawing his trademark "I heart Rome" with a heart shape in clay. Or it will be Nadal's imprint splayed out on clay. Or it may yet be another champion altogether (there's a novelty).
Whether this weekend's answer is going to be a sign of things to come in Paris is another matter entirely. Fact is only one player has ever beaten Nadal in the best-of-five at the French Open: Robin Soderling six years ago. Time and time again, he's put paid on any notion of another champion claiming his rightful throne in Paris. So it shouldn't surprise anybody if he does it again, surely. That said if Djokovic does clinch the French Open it WILL be a stunning accomplishment regardless of the fact that his form is primed perfectly to do so.