Rafael Nadal is the undisputed king of clay, and there will never be another king as far as I am concerned; however, the evidence suggests that his reign may be coming to an end. In 2004 he won his first singles title on clay, and since then Nadal has won at least two clay titles each year until this recent drought.
The clay court season is the phase where he has dominated the field; however, this year, injury and illness has completely derailed him. He was not able to defend his Monte Carlo or Barcelona titles. Although he made it to the semifinals in Madrid, he still is without a title on any surface going into the second major of the season (2019 Australian Open finalist).
INJURY TAKES A TOLL
This is troubling for team Nadal and of course his fans as we worry first about his health and secondly about whether he will be able to defend his Roland Garros title. Nadal has been able to bounce back after every injury setback; yet, this time, he seems to have taken a body blow and is not bouncing back with his usual vigor. I have followed Nadal since before he turned professional. I cannot express how much I admire him as a tennis player. What he has been able to accomplish on sheer guts and determination is simply amazing.
Yet, those accomplishments have come at a steep price and perhaps his inability to bounce back this season is a testament of the toll his determination has taken on his mind and body. While we would like him to play forever, we know that every career comes to an end eventually. I hope he will be able to defend his Roland Garros title and when he decides to call it quits, I hope he does it while he is still on top. These three recent losses (to Fabio Fognini, Dominic Thiem and Stefanos Tsitsipas) must have punched holes in his confidence. I am also still not quite convinced that Nadal is fully recovered from his most recent injury.
If he is no longer dominant on clay and can no longer play on the hard courts; what will he do? Grass has been a nightmare for him despite winning Wimbledon twice; so, where does that leave him?
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