Seven Signs Rafa Nadal Is Back- and the Two Signs We Are Waiting For

Nadal

Photo Courtesy of www.sportfejm.pl

The answer to the question of whether or not Rafa Nadal is back to his Roland Garros winning best was clearer after his Barcelona win last weekend. The Tennis Review looks at seven signs from Nadal’s play the last couple of months which tell us he is back, and looks ahead to two more signs we are waiting for.

1. Saved Match Point Versus Zverev in Indian Wells

Prior to Indian Wells 2016, Nadal had suffered some tough losses to the ATP’s Next Generation- to Nick Kyrgios at Wimbledon 2014, and to Borna Coric at Basel 2014.

Alexander Zverev looked like he was going to inflict another one on the Spaniard when he held match point in the Indian Wells last sixteen. Nadal, though, hung in, fought off Zverev’s match point and then went on to take the match.

A year ago, Nadal might not have had the self-belief to pull off that kind of comeback over such an in-form player, but this season he does have it, and that comeback win over Zvevev got the first rumblings going that the old Nadal might be coming back.

Watch the video below to see Nadal winning his match point versus Sasha Zverev in Indian Wells.

2. Held set point Versus Novak Djokovic in Indian Wells

The last time Nadal won a set from Novak Djokovic was back in the 2014 Roland Garros final. Between that match and his Indian Wells ’16 semi-final versus the world No.1, Nadal had not taken a set from Djokovic in five matches.

In Indian Wells, Nadal may not have managed a set, but he did hold set point at 5-4 returning, and a few games later he was battling his old rival in a tiebreaker.

That effort was the furthest Nadal had pushed Djokovic in a set since the first set of their 2015 Roland Garros quarter-final which Nadal lost 5-7, and a surefire sign he was on the way back.

3. Defeated Fabio Fognini in Straights in Barcelona Last Sixteen

In Barcelona 2015, Nadal was defeated by Fabio Fognini in straight sets in the last sixteen, Nadal’s second loss to Fognini that season after being defeated by the Italian in three sets in the Rio semis.

Nadal would beat Fognini later on in July in the Hamburg final, but he would once again suffer a defeat to the Italian, and this one would be the most painful yet- Nadal’s first defeat in a Grand Slam after leading by two sets to love.

This year in Barcelona, Nadal did not stumble versus the Italian as he defeated Fognini in straights in the last sixteen, taking the first set 6-2, and then dominating the second set tiebreak 7-1.

Nadal did drop serve three times, but the win was still more straight-forward than might have been expected against an opponent who could have gotten inside Nadal’s head with those 2015 wins.

Nadal refused to let Fognini in his head, and showed he was over those losses last season out on the court.

4. Breaking Down Rivals in Third Sets in Big Matches

In Monte Carlo, Nadal was pushed to the limit by rivals Andy Murray and Gael Monfils as he split the first two sets of his semi-final and final with his rivals in both matches.

There was no competition, however, in the third sets. Nadal took the third 6-2 versus Murray and 6-0 versus Monfils. Nadal upped his aggression and intensity when the match came down to a single set, a scene his fans would have well-remembered and a sign warmly welcomed.

5. Won Monte Carlo and Barcelona Double

Winning the Monte Carlo-Barcelona double was another return to Nadal’s reigning days on Clay- he did it six times in his Roland Garros winning seasons, and seven times in all (2009 was the one year he did not follow up the Monte Carlo-Barcelona double with success in Paris).

In the Barcelona final, Nadal beat Kei Nishikori, the two-time defending champion, 6-4, 7-5.

In the second set, Nadal led 4-1 only to be pulled back, but he managed to stay calm, and crucially broke the Japanese in the final game to take the match, and the title.

Handling his nerves like that, and proving the stronger of the two on the return game that really mattered, with Nishikori serving to stay in the match, was the Nadal of old, raising his game when it was most vital.

Watch Nadal celebrating his Barcelona win in the video below.

6. Getting the Nadal Name Back into the History Books

Nadal has won Barcelona a record nine times now, matching his nine titles in Monte Carlo, and at the French Open.

Nadal has also now equaled Guillermo Vilas’ 49 career Clay court titles.

Nadal is back to where he used to be on clay- being not just relevant in the current era, but in the history books, too.

7. Second Best Return Game on the Tour in 2016

Nadal has the second best return game of all time with 33 % of return games won (Djokovic is fifth with 32).

Nadal was third in 2015 with 31, and in 2016, he is second with 36. That return game is an all too important one on clay where breaks of serve are common place, and both the ability to break right back, and to have a two break cushion can make the difference. Nadal being up there with the very best in that category is a promising sign he is back to his best.

The Signs We Are Still Waiting for

While Nadal is certainly looking back to his best, there are still going to be some who are not convinced. For that to happen, there are two things which Nadal needs to accomplish:

1. A Defeat of Djokovic

If Nadal beats Djokovic this clay season, then he is definitely back, no more questions. Djokovic is so far ahead of the field right now – he is 410 points shy of holding as many ranking points as the world No.2 and 3 put together- and has been so dominant of Nadal in the last two seasons, that a win  for Nadal over the world No.1 would be the final silencer to any doubters, and, most importantly, to any doubts Nadal himself might have going on in the back of his mind.

The time is right, too. Djokovic has recently suffered a shock defeat to Jiri Vesely in his Monte Carlo opener– and has all the pressure in the tennis world upon him with Roland Garros, the only slam he has not won, coming up. Facing Nadal in Paris would only crank that pressure up even higher for Djokovic, and Nadal will be only too aware of that, and, crucially, both how it could work in his favor, and how to make it count.

2. The Big One- Winning Roland Garros

If Nadal gets that win over Djokovic prior to Roland Garros, his chances of a historic tenth title in Paris would increase significantly- the Serb is likely to be standing at some point between the Spaniard and a record tenth Roland Garros title.

Whatever happens in the French Open lead-ins, if Nadal beats Djokovic at Roland Garros, and in the final, the question of whether he is back or not would be well and truly redundant, and leave us with another question that will have a fascinating answer to watch unfold- when will Nadal really be back- as a seasonal multi-slam winner, and the world No.1?

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Roger Federer Where Would He Most Likely Win Grand Slam No 18?

Federer

Photo courtesy of zidapps.boku.ac.at

Can Roger Federer win Grand Slam No. 18 has been one of the big tennis questions of recent years. We think, as the world No.3 and a 17 times slam winner, he certainly can so The Tennis Review gives you an answer to another question: where would Federer most likely win that elusive 18th Major title?

1 Wimbledon – Champion in 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012.

With Federer organizing his 2016 season around the Grass courts, skipping much of the clay to leave him fresh for the surface that most naturally complements his game, he has given himself a great opportunity to win slam No.18 in SW19.

SW19 was both the scene of Federer’s very first and his last slam victory, and the venue of seven of his 17 slam wins.

Last year when Roger Federer defeated Andy Murray, the Queen’s champion, in straight sets in formidable style, in the semis, many thought that the Final was on his racket.

Novak Djokovic, though felt otherwise, and he defeated the Swiss in four sets.

What Federer needs to happen if Wimbledon is to be the 18th slam:

Federer needs to make it to the final in speedy fashion, just like he did last year, and in 2014. At the age of 34, and he will be almost 35 by the time Wimbledon comes around, Federer cannot afford to go into the final on the back of any epic matches.

Especially as he would likely face Novak Djokovic. The world No.1 has been the final hurdle for Federer in all three of his slam finals since his last slam win at Wimbledon ’12, and each time he has not been able to clear the Serb. The world No.1 simply does not let Federer play his aggressive game, keeping him back with his depth of shot, and negating his serve the second it drops in quality, with his formidable return.

If Federer gets to another Wimbledon final, and if he faces Djokovic, he needs to overwhelm the three time champion, not giving up control of the match for even a second. The Swiss has to keep his first serve percentage in the mid 70s at least, stay true to his aggressive game style- there can only be plan A versus Djokovic in the slower second week SW 19 conditions- and stay calm on the big points.

The moment Federer gives him an inch, the Serb will take a mile, and then some.

Watch highlights of Federer’s last Wimbledon win in the video below.

2 US Open – Champion in 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008.

In 2014, Roger Federer went into the US Open semi-finals with the unexpected boost that must have come with the news of Novak Djokovic’s upset at the hands of Kei Nishikori.

That, though, was as far as Federer’s luck was going that day. Despite all the hard work he had put into climbing back to No.2 in the rankings to earn second seeded status, and coming back from two sets to one and match point down in the fourth set to defeat Gael Monfils in the last eight, Federer could not capitalize on Djokovic’s defeat and the prospect of facing Grand Slam beau Nishikori for the title and was instead overwhelmed in straight sets by a red-hot opponent in Marin Cilic.

Last year, Federer did manage to live up to his second seeding and make the final, for the first time since he was runner up to del Potro in 2009, but  he never produced anywhere near his best tennis, failing to convert 19 of 23 break points, and making errors at the net when he had the court waiting with open arms for the kind of winners he had produced in his last four straight sets win over Stan Wawrinka.

What Federer needs to happen if the US Open is to be the 18th slam:

One big positive for Federer this season is that the US Open’s Arthur Ashe court will have a retractable roof.  Last year, rain delayed the final until the early evening which favored Djokovic who enjoyed the slower cooler conditions at an event he had won once and not since 2011. This year, if the Swiss does face Djokovic and it rains, Federer will enjoy indoor conditions, which he usually excels on, and they should be faster than the ones Djokovic does so well on.

But while the weather conditions and what influence they have on the outcome is now under control, there is still one aspect the Swiss will not be able to command- a red-lining opponent.

If Federer does face a del Potro or a Cilic,  he needs to somehow keep them on court until they run out of steam. Federer certainly has the defensive skills to do it, but he likes to go down swinging nowadays.

Can Federer execute a defensive plan B if his opponent is swinging even better than he is at the business end of the tournament? He would only need to do it until their form had blown over and then the Swiss could himself get sailing again with his own aggressive game.

Watch highlights of Federer’s last triumph in the US Open final in 2008 below.

3 Roland Garros – Champion in 2009.

Federer was, from 2005-2011, the world’s second best clay Courter after his red dust nemesis Rafa Nadal.

The 2009 French Open champion has all the skills to do well on clay with both aggressive shot-making and baseline defense among his artillery, but it was only when Nadal was defeated by Robin Soderling that the Swiss was able to get his hands on the trophy and complete his career Grand Slam.

Federer does not seem at all focused on Roland Garros this season, and it is only because of his recent knee surgery he entered Monte Carlo to get some much needed match practice, but Roland Garros might be where he has a great chance to finally win slam No.18.

The Clay courts are more forgiving on the knees than hard courts and the slower courts give the 34 year old some much needed time to set up his shots and track down his opponent’s.

That advantage, of course, all depends on his opponent and the quality of their shots. Last year, Federer was overwhelmed by a superbly aggressive Stan Wawrinka in straights in the quarters and he will always be vulnerable to an opponent like Wawrinka playing their best aggressive tennis on clay courts in hot conditions, the kind of tennis that not even Djokovic’s defensive skills could negate.

But there is one opponent who has yet to redline in his final Roland Garros match, and that might be one reason why Federer has a great shot at the French Open- it is the slam his current nemesis Novak Djokovic has not been able to crack.

Federer, himself, has played a major role in Djokovic’s Roland Garros nightmares – it was the Swiss who put in one of his career-best performances in 2011 to defeat Djokovic, who was on a 43 match winning streak, in four sets, and ended the chances of the Serb, who had defeated Nadal in two French Open lead-in finals, and was favorite to take the title.

What Federer needs to happen if Roland Garros is to be the 18th slam:

Roland Garros is the slam where Federer would most likely, if he can get back the No.2 seed, avoid Djokovic in the final- the world No.1 is more vulnerable in Paris to the likes of Nadal or Wawrinka before the championship match.

However it is also the slam where avoiding Djokovic is the least beneficial- if he  does face the Serb, Federer will have a rare mental edge over him and a chance to take advantage of the nerves that befall the world No.1 when he gets within a match of the one slam trophy missing from his collection.

Federer can enter the French Open pretty much under the radar- well, by Federer’s standards, anyway- and a relaxed, loose Federer is the last player Djokovic, or anyone right now, wants to see on the other side of the court and up at the net fighting for an 18th slam in the Roland Garros final.

Watch an emotional Roger Federer in the trophy ceremony for the 2009 French Open in the video below.

4 Australian Open – Champion in 2004, 2006, 2007, 2010.

The Australian Open is where Federer first lost to Djokovic in a slam and has been the scene of some of his greatest losses such as his 2005 semi-final defeat at the hands of Marat Safin, and his 2009 tear-jerking final loss to Rafa Nadal.

Federer also suffered his biggest upset since returning to form in 2014 when he went down to Andreas Seppi- who he had defeated nine consecutive times- in the 2015 third round.

The slow hard courts at Melbourne park, even slower at night when the semis and finals are played, are tailor made for players like Djokovic and Murray who can track down every ball against the tour’s more aggressive players and force them into error.

Federer’s defensive game, meanwhile, does not benefit from the slowness of the court as it does on clay. For, while the the court is slow, it is still faster than clay so does not compensate for Federer’s decreased foot speed over long points. Federer also does not have as much time as he does on clay to unleash his formidable shot-making skills for winners.

While Federer can, on a good day, hit through the plexi-cushion court and challenge his chief rivals, he is not able to sustain that level for more than a set or two against men who can run side to side five sets long.

What Federer needs to happen if the Australian Open is to be the 18th slam:

Federer would have to produce two weeks of stunning tennis to win a fifth Melbourne title. Everything would need to fall in place at a tournament Novak Djokovic seems to have on lockdown for a couple more seasons at least.

Federer’s finest strokes painting the court might not be enough so he might also need the most strokes of luck he has ever had in a slam to come his way, too.

For, if the draw fell apart, and if Federer got his best match ups on the other side of the court, slam No.18 could come in the most unlikely of ways in what, to many, would be the most unlikely of venues, which is, now and then, exactly how tennis works out.

Watch Federer’s last triumph in Melbourne in the video below.

Where do you think Federer would be most likely to win Slam No.18? Let us know in the comments box below.

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Barcelona Open Final Preview Rafa Nadal Versus Kei Nishikori

nadal nishikori

Photo courtesy of sport-asia.com

The Barcelona Open final features Rafa Nadal (1) up against Kei Nishikori (2) who have won the last five titles in the Catalan Capital between them. The Tennis Review previews the match and predicts the winner.

The word on the tennis courts is that, after winning the Monte Carlo Rolex Masters and breaking down his rivals Andy Murray and Gael Monfils in deciding sets, Rafa Nadal is back.

Not everyone, however, agrees, arguing that while Monte Carlo was a return to ATP 1000 winning form, Nadal still has a few more comeback milestones to pass before being back to his Roland Garros winning best.

The Spaniard has a great chance of passing another one of those milestones with a win over Kei Nishikori in this year’s Barcelona Open final. The Spaniard has won the Monte-Carlo- Barcelona double seven times, and six times in his Roland Garros winning years, and if he can do the double again this Sunday, doubters might be a little more inclined to believe another Roland Garros might be on the cards.

Especially as the Spaniard would have to beat Nishikori on the way- the Japanese has won the title the last two years and is on a 14 match winning streak at the tournament.

Nishikori, though, has not met anyone of the quality of Nadal during that Barcelona run- the Japanese has never met anyone ranked higher than 16, Roberto Bautista Agut, during his reign.

Nadal is a tough match up for Nishikori. The 8 time Barcelona Champ leads the two time champ 8-1 in their head and head and won their last encounter in straight sets in the Indian Wells quarter-finals.

The Spaniard leads the series 2-0 on Clay, winning their first encounter on the red stuff in the Roland Garros fourth round in 2013 in straight sets, and taking the second one in 2014, in the Madrid final, when Nishikori had to retire 0-3 down in the third set after leading a set and a break with some stunning aggressive baseline tennis.

Watch highlights of Nadal’s win over Nishikori in the Madrid ’14 final below.

This match might be the highest quality encounter we have seen between the two since that Madrid final.

Neither player has dropped a set on their way to the championship match and both put in dominant semi-final performances with Nadal seeing off Philipp Kohlschreiber and Nishikori defeating Benoit Paire, who had beaten him the last two times they had met, and both feel comfortable on the Barcelona Clay.

Nishikori has been in good form recently- in his last event in Miami he reached the final where he lost to Novak Djokovic. That was over three weeks ago now, but the rest and recovery after what must have been a tough loss, might pay off in the final, especially considering Nadal’s recent run which has seen him win nine matches in less than two weeks.

That run for the Spaniard, however, does mean that Nadal is the match tougher of the two, coming into the tournament after an inspiring run to the Monte Carlo title. That run saw him pushed to three sets by Andy Murray and Gael Monfils, and in each match he proved by far the stronger in the third, and looked more like the Nadal of old, the Nadal who survived Nishikori’s fierce display in the Madrid final two seasons ago.

To see off Nadal in his current mood, Nishikori would have to produce his best play, which he has struggled to do in big matches versus the top players recently. If Nishikori comes out aggressive and misfiring, as he has been prone to do against the top players, Nadal will lap it up. If the Japanese comes out on the attack and his shots fall in, Nadal will weather the storm until Nishikori’s game or, as happens all too often, his body gives up on him.

For Nishikori to win, both body and game need to hold up over a possible three sets. If that happens, it will be some scene, the biggest win of the Japanese’s career so far.

If Nadal can see off that kind of Nishikori performance, that will be another scene, too, one we have seen many times before. A scene that would be another milestone reached on the road to getting back to where Nadal once was, sweeping all before him in the run up to Roland Garros.

A milestone to make the doubters think twice.

Prediction: Nadal has the momentum on clay right now, and Nishikori is likely to be swept away in its path.

Posted in ATP, Barcelona, Kei Nishikori, Preview, Rafael Nadal | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Interview with Hernan Chousa Author of My Son The Tennis Player

Hernan Chousa

Photo courtesy of Hernan Chousa

Tennis Parenting is not the easiest role in the tennis world, and it’s tough on tennis juniors, too, but help is at hand. The Tennis Review talked to ex ATP pro Hernan Chousa about his book My Son the Tennis Player and asked him his thoughts on the complicated world of tennis parenting.

What is your book about?
My book is a Tennis Parents’ Guide. It’s a very difficult role to play in the tennis game and there isn’t much information about how to behave, so I found it interesting writing something about the topic. It isn’t a to-do list- the book approaches the issue in an humorous way presenting different parent, player and coach types. For sure, My Son the Tennis Player features some tips, too, but they are very reader-friendly, mixed with drawings and other stuff.

When you were a junior, what were your parents like?
When I was young my father was really a problem, always behind me, asking questions like “Who did you practice with?” He wanted to get involved in all the details. When I was 15, I didn’t allow him to watch me playing anymore. My mom was the opposite. She never spoke and was beside the court in silence. Tennis was the issue at dinner time and that was a big mistake, I have a sister that played another sport and she was never part of the conversation. Tennis is one of those things that turns into a virus easily.

What do you wish you had been taught as a Junior to help you with life on the pro tour?
I think that tennis is getting difficult for the young players. There are many old players still playing and playing really well. With that in mind, I think College tennis is a great step for a pro career. Kids spend time in a good environment between the ages of 18-22, and then they can step onto the tour. I know it is nice being a Del Potro or Federer, but chances are that only 1 in 16.000 can make a living from sports so it is better to be prepared for life.

What kind of tennis parent are you?
I think that I got better with time. Maybe because I am an ex ATP player you may think that I didn’t make mistakes- in fact I did, and a lot!!!

When my son was 15 he quit tennis, and I felt very good because his tennis was very heavy for me, and during that time I wrote the book. At 17 he got involved in tennis again seeking a tennis scholarship and now I am a very different parent that I was in his first tennis stage. For example I don’t go to his practices. In the past I was there analyzing each stroke and talking to coaches- for sure I did things wrong and nobody gave me any advice. Parents think they are “Healthy” when in fact tennis is a permanent disease that has to be controlled.

What do you like most about helping tennis parents?
I will tell you a story. After I launched the book, I had a radio Interview. The program had a large audience. It was during the afternoon so I told my wife to listen. At that time she was on a charter van home from work. She asked the driver to turn on the radio. It so happened that he had a 10 year old child playing soccer at a club. The interview lasted 20 minutes- we talked about the book and about professional tennis too. Next morning my wife took the van again to go to her work and the first thing the driver said to her was: “After hearing your husband yesterday I went home and told my kid that I will never ever watch him during his practices, You know what my kid said?, He said THANK YOU!!!!!”

That is what I like most- when you can help a kid. I am not helping parents, I am helping kids from parents.

Check out Hernan’s blog about tennis parenting here:  My Son the Tennis Player

Buy Hernan Chousa’s book here 

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Juan Martin del Potro’s Return to Clay Court Tennis Five Points

del Potro

Photo courtesy of zimbio.com

Juan del Potro’s comeback continues this clay season after the Argentine made his appearances in two upcoming tournaments official. The Tennis Review looks ahead to the 2009 US Open Champs clay schedule and reviews some of the Argentine’s highlights on the red stuff.

del Potro made the announcement on twitter and facebook

del Potro let his fans know on April 6th he was playing back on the clay via the tweet below.

On April 14th, del Potro announced he would be playing in Munich and Madrid and was pleased to be able to commit to two consecutive tournaments for the first time since his come back which started back at Delray Beach.

del Potro has had great success on the clay. His serve is big enough to hit through the court and the surface rewards his aggressive ball striking, particularly on his famous forehand, arguably, the best on the ATP tour.

In addition, the extra time the surface gives him compensates for any weaknesses movement-wise.

del Potro will also be able to run round his backhand, which has been his weaker side since coming back from wrist injury, and hit his formidable inside out forehand. 

Check out the clip below of del Potro practising on clay.

del Potro will compete in Munich and Madrid

del Potro is 9-3 on the Madrid clay courts, reaching the semi-finals of the blue clay event in 2012 where he lost to Tomas Berdych in a match featuring some formidable baseline exchanges.

Watch highlights of Berdych vs del Potro in the Madrid ’12 semis below.

In 2009, he also made the Madrid semis, beating Berdych, Wawrinka and Murray before losing to Federer.

In Munich, del Potro has only competed once, in 2008, beating Arnaud Clement and Igor Andreev before losing to Younes El Aynnaoui.

Overall, del Potro has a 62-24 record on clay and it is the surface on which he has his highest winning percentage of 72.1.

The Argentine won his first ever match on the surface, at Vina del Mar 2006 where, ranked 159, he defeated 117th ranked Albert Portas 6-2, 6-2. He also played his first six career ATP tournament on clay courts.

del Potro has won 4 clay events in his career.

The Argentine won Stuttgart and Kitzbuhel in 2008 and Estoril in 2011 and 2012.

Stuttgart, in 2008, was del Potro’s first ever ATP final and he beat Richard Gasquet in straight sets in the final. He won Kitzbuhel the week after, defeating Jurgen Melzer for the title.

del Potro defeated Fernando Verdasco for his first Estoril title in 2011, (he beat Robin Soderling in the last eight), and beat Richard Gasquet for the 2012 trophy.

del potro

Photo courtesy of www.taringa.net

del Potro has not played on clay for three years

His last match was in Rome 2013 in the round of 16 where he suffered a 4-6, 6-7 defeat to Benoit Paire.

del Potro has been to the Roland Garros semis once.

In 2009, del Potro reached the semi-finals of Roland Garros where he lost to Roger Federer in five sets after leading by two sets to one.

Watch highlights of del Potro’s 2009 clash with Federer in the video below.

del Potro is 12-6 in the French Capital, reaching the quarter-finals the last time he played in 2012. Once again, he lost to Federer in five sets, this time after leading by two sets to love.

A last eight finish in Paris looks unlikely for del Potro right now, but with a player of del Potro’s clay court skills and slam winning pedigree, anything could happen.

If del Potro can get his game going in Munich and Madrid, and enter a couple of other events, he could play himself into form and challenge the game’s current top ranked players on a surface the Argentine has given us plenty of thrills on in the past, thrills we hope he can provide us with again in the coming months.

Posted in Clay, Clay Court Season, Juan Martin Del Potro | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Dominic Thiem and His Generation The Lowdown Tomic Sock Vesely

Dominic Thiem

Photo courtesy of sportmedia.mk

Dominic Thiem is currently leading his generation, (players born between 1993 and 1995), in the rise to the top of the world rankings. The Tennis Review takes a look at these young players, what they have achieved, where they are now and what might lie ahead.

Dominic Thiem, 22 years old

Thiem is on a real roll this season- in February alone he won two titles, (Buenos Aires, Acapulco), made the semis of Rio, and beat two top tenners in Rafa Nadal and David Ferrer.

That success won’t have come as a surprise to anyone following Thiem’s career the last couple of seasons.

The 2011 French Open junior runner-up (defeated by Bjorn Frantangelo) has had some success at slams, making the US Open 2014 fourth round, and is 11-9 overall at the game’s biggest events.

In 2014, he beat Stan Wawrinka, who was then the reigning Australian Open and Monte Carlo champ, in the second round of Madrid.

Thiem’s first final was at the 2014 Kitzbuhel event, which he lost to David Goffin. He won his first title at Nice 2015, and followed it up with titles in Umag and Gstaad.

One of the most encouraging aspects about Thiem is that his game keeps developing. Thiem has always been famous for his signature shot, his one handed backhand, but these past few months, his serve has become a real weapon and he seems set on finishing points as early as possible on the back of his steady point construction which allows him to set the points up with high percentage tennis and then hit winners when the time is right.

That development is what has helped him earn his biggest achievement- the ATP 500 Acapulco title-off clay, and will only add to his clay court skills. In a very physical game like men’s tennis, a big serve and the quick points it can bring, could save him a lot of energy in big matches.

You can be sure that Thiem is going to be present for a lot of big matches in future. His big match experience is growing, he is very capable of handling the pressure of beating those ranked below him, and he bounces back from defeat quickly. Look at how he came back to win Acapulco after what must have been a tough defeat to Guido Pella at the Rio Open just a week before.

Indeed, Thiem has hunger and fight in spades- his match point saving win over Rafa Nadal in Buenos Aires was a great example of that– and that combined with his weapons and mental toughness is going to set him up nicely for quite a few shots at the French Open title.

Thiem’s recent rise comes along at a good time prospects wise. While Djokovic may still be dominating, Federer, Nadal, and Murray have not won slams for a couple of years, and the time of the likes of Berdych, Ferrer, and Tsonga’s is really running out. Meanwhile, the Nishikori generation seems a little lost. There could be a window in a couple of years for Thiem and his generation to push through, and the Austrian will, if recent evidence is anything to go by, be at the front of the pack.

Strengths: Thiem is as professional as it gets- focused, hard-working, and well-behaved on court. Thiem also has a good serve, great point construction and an aggressive mindset, and of course that one-handed backhand.

Weaknesses: With today’s game being so physical, Thiem’s weakness is one many of his generation and the one below share- fitness. He was pretty ineffective against Guido Pella in his Rio semi, the week after winning Buenos Aires, losing in straights.

The Austrian has also failed to play his best tennis on big points versus the game’s biggest players, namely Novak Djokovic and Rafa Nadal. In his matches versus Djokovic in Miami, and against Rafa Nadal in Monte Carlo, Thiem played great aggressive tennis only to withdraw on break points, failing to convert 13 in Miami and 18 in Monte Carlo.

That weakness needs to be tackled as soon as possible- Thiem is likely to be battling in big matches on a regular basis and the more he fails on the big points in those matches, the harder it is going to be to progress to the next level which is competing at the business end of ATP 1000s and Grand Slams.

The look on Thiem’s face, however, after that Nadal loss told us he would be fixing that problem soon, and that next time the likes of Djokovic and Nadal might not be so lucky.

Slam he is most likely to succeed at: Roland Garros

Bernard Tomic, 23

Tomic

Photo courtesy of Steven Pisano at Flickr.com (creative commons license)

You could write a book about Bernard Tomic already and he is only 23. The Australian’s career has been marked by one controversy after another, the most relevant being his lack of fight at times (see his 2012 US Open performance versus Andy Roddick which led to tanking accusations directed at him.)

The vitriol Tomic received after that match was a compliment of sorts – if people did not think he had the talent to become a future No.1, then they would not have been so vocal.

Strengths: Tomic is a versatile player with fine touch and a nice serve, and an awkward slice. Those skills have seen him reach a slam quarter-final (Wimbledon 13), win titles in Bogata (2014, 2015) and Sydney (2013), and reach the Australian fourth round twice.

Weaknesses: For all the talent he may have, Tomic seems to undermine it with enough off court problems to keep his entire generation distracted. Negative emotions can also overwhelm him on court and result in outbursts or less than convincing performances. Tomic can also give up if things do not go his way (Quito this year), and unless he can resolve those issues he may never get it together to achieve all the great things that could lay in store for him such as slam titles (Wimbledon and the US Open would be most likely) and a stint at the top of the ATP rankings.

The good news is all those weaknesses can be overcome, and if they are, his strengths will take Tomic far.

Slam he is most likely to succeed at: Wimbledon

Jack Sock, 23

Sock

Photo courtesy of Jennifer Liquido at flickr (creative commons license)

Jack Sock is a big serving, aggressive player from the US, who won the 2010 US Open Juniors tournament, beating Denis Kudla in the final. That achievement was impressive in itself, but was made even more remarkable by the fact it was only his second ever Junior Slam played, and his last.

Sock entered the top 100 of the pro rankings on July 8th 2013  after a nice run which saw him qualifying for Roland Garros and making the second round (beat Guillermo Gracia-Lopez in the main draw) and winning the Winnetka challenger.

Sock fell in and out of the top 100 until Spring 2014 and by the end of the year he was ranked 42.

In 2015, he won his first title in Houston beating Kevin Anderson in the Semis and Sam Querrey in the final. He also reached the last 16 of Roland Garros where he took a set off Nadal, beat Gasquet in the last 16 of the Citi Open, beat Gasquet again on his run to the Stockholm final where he lost to Berdych, and beat Isner on his way to the Basel semis.

This season, he started well by beating Ferrer on his way to the Auckland final but he had to retire injured versus Bautista Agut.

Sock also made the Houston final but lost in three tough sets to Juan Monaco as he struggled with fitness.

Sock has potential to be a top five player, and his success on all surfaces (he is also a Wimbledon doubles champion with Vasek Pospisil in 2014) means he could have deep runs at any of the ATP 1000s and Slams.

Strengths: A big serve and first strike tennis.

Weaknesses: Fitness. The American struggles if matches go the distance.

Slam he is most likely to succeed at: US Open.

Jiri Vesely, 22

Vesely

Photo courtesy of robbiesaurus at Flickr.com (creative commons license)

Vesely, the 2011 US Open Boys juniors runner-up, has some big weapons with his huge serve and ground-strokes and he showcased them best when he took the 2015 Auckland title on outdoor hard as a qualifier.

Vesely looked like he might be ready to breakthrough in 2015 when he built on his Auckland win with a final appearance on clay in Bucharest in late April, but he did not win more than two consecutive ATP matches until the US Open, and he only achieved the same feat once more the rest of the year in Shenzhen where he beat Ze Zhang, ranked 216, and Zhizhen Zhang, ranked 583, before falling to Berdych.

This year, if you had not heard of Vesely before the Monte Carlo Rolex Masters, his second round upset of Novak Djokovic would have changed that. The Czech put in a career best performance to shock the world No.1 in his first ATP clay match of the season.

Strengths: Vesely has a huge serve and big shots. If he gets into a rhythm, he is hard to beat.

Weaknesses: As hot as Vesely can get, he can also plunge into very cold waters in a sea of errors.

Slam he is most likely to succeed at: The US Open

Thiem, Tomic, Vesely, and Sock are the four biggest achievers of their generations so far. Here’s a brief look at their fellow top 100 members. 

Denis Kudla

Kudla

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Denis Kudla’s deepest run at an ATP event came at the 2015 BT&T Open, Atlanta, beating Jack Sock on his way to a three set semi-final loss to John Isner. That run came on the back of a run to the fourth round of Wimbledon where he lost to Marin Cilic.

Kyle Edmund, 21

Edmund

Photo courtesy of Marianne Bevis at Flickr.com (creative commons license)

Edmund has come to the tennis world’s attention mostly on the red clay- reaching the French Open second round in 2015 and leading David Goffin by two sets to love in the first rubber of the Davis Cup final that same year.

Diego Schwartzman, 23

Schwartzman

Photo courtesy of Steven Pisano at Flickr.com (Creative commons license)

Schwartzman, from Argentina, made the semis of Istanbul in 2016.

Taro Daniel, 23

Daniel

Photo courtesy of Marianne Bevis at Flickr.com (Creative commons license)

Daniel is a counter-puncher who has had most of his success on clay including a run to the quarter-finals of the Chile Open in 2014.

Lucas Pouille, 22

Pouille

Photo courtesy of Mathys Cresson at Flickr.com (Creative commons License)

Pouille is a much-talked about player this year after his run to the Brisbane semi-finals which saw him defeat then 16th ranked David Goffin in the fourth round.

Pouille has had some nice runs in his short career such as getting to the Paris Masters last 16 in 2014 where he beat Karlovic and Fognini before losing to Federer.

Much of Pouille’s pro success has come on clay. In 2015, he defeated Thiem in Monte Carlo’s first round, and in Hamburg, he beat Monaco and Paire on his way to the semis

Marco Cecchinato, 23

Cecchinato

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Cecchinato only competed in his first slam last year at the US Open where he lost to Mardy Fish in the first round in four sets.

Damir Dzumhur, 23

Dzumhur

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Dzumhur, a former junior No.3, won his first main draw ATP match in 2015 when he saved two match points versus Michael Berrer in the opening round of Zagreb.  He reached the semis of Casablanca,  and beat Youzhny and Baghdatis before losing to Federer at Roland Garros.

In 2016, Dzumhir is 5-6 beat Kyle Edmund in five sets in the Australian Open first round before losing to David Goffin.

At the 2016 Miami Open he defeated Rafael Nadal in the second round when the Spaniard had to withdraw down in the third set with heat illness.

In his next event, Dzumhur beat Tomas Berdych in the second round of Monte Carlo and then pushed Milos Raonic to a final set tiebreak in the last sixteen.

Posted in ATP, Bernard Tomic, Dominic Thiem, Jack Sock, Jiri Vesely, Player Guides | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Monte Carlo Rolex Masters Final Rafa Nadal Defeats Gael Monfils Five Points

nadal

Photo courtesy of matiastania.gr

Rafa Nadal lifted his ninth Monte Carlo Rolex Masters trophy beating Gael Monfils 7-5, 5-7, 6-0 in a 2 hour 45 minute contest. The Tennis Review gives you five points on a thrilling final.

The title is Nadal’s first ATP 1000 since Madrid ’14.

Since that victory over Kei Nishikori in the Madrid ’14 final, Nadal had reached just two other ATP 1000 finals, both on clay, in Rome (2014) and Madrid (2015) losing to Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray respectively.

Nadal now ties Novak Djokovic with 28 ATP 1000 titles

That did not look likely back in Miami when Djokovic took the record for most ATP 1000 titles, climbing one above Nadal and his jointly held record of 27.

That same week, while Djokovic continued his dominance of the ATP tour, Nadal had problems with the heat and had to withdraw from his third round match with Damir Dzumhur.

In the space of a few weeks, however, Nadal has turned his season round from one in which he struggled with confidence and fitness to one in which he excelled in both as he took one of the tour’s oldest and most prestigious titles with wins over Dominic Thiem, Stan Wawrinka and Andy Murray, all well-regarded, even highly rated clay court players, and then emerged the winner in a hotly contested final.

Nadal now leads Monfils 12-2 in their head to head.

Considering their head to head, few expected the Nadal-Monfils Monte Carlo match to be such a closely contested one.

Especially considering their clay court history. Before the match, Nadal led Monfils 4-0 on clay and had never dropped more than 3 games to him in a set, losing 17 games in total.

In the 2016 Monte Carlo final alone Nadal lost 13 games to the Frenchman, and five of those were on his own serve.

The match had 13 breaks of serve

Nadal got 8 of them, Monfils 5. Monfils saved a total of 13 break points, while Nadal saved 8.

Breaks of serve on clay are more common than on hard, and both men returned from quite far back which meant they could neutralize the serve with their ground-strokes. If one of them managed to get a good strike on the return, they were able to effectively take control of the point, diffuse the weapon that the serve can be and make this match one decided from on and inside the baseline. Both men also approached the majority of the break points with aggressive tennis which led to the high number of points both converted.

In the first set, Nadal broke first for 3-1 with some sublime defense and then transitioned into offense, earning a short ball and hitting it down the line with authority to force an error from Monfils.

Monfils broke back  immediately as he remained solid in rallies, forcing an error from Nadal on break point, and then held serve for 3-3.

At 4-3, Nadal broke again as Monfils fired a forehand long, but the Spaniard could not serve the set out and Monfils leveled the set at 5-5.

Nadal held for 6-5 and then broke Monfils to take the first set 7-5.

In the second set, Monfils was not going to go away, breaking for 2-1 and holding for a 3-1 lead. Nadal fought back to level the set at 3-3,  but Monfils never gave up, breaking again for 4-3.

Nadal breaking straight back did not dispirit the Frenchman, who was 5-18 in finals, as he held serve to stay in the match at 4-5 and then broke Nadal for 6-5.

The Frenchman then served out the set and leveled the match at a set apiece.

That, however, was as far as the Frenchman’s challenge to the eight time Monte Carlo champion was going to go. Nadal broke at the start of the decider, held serve, broke again, and as each point went on, the Spaniard grew in confidence and authority as he took the deciding set 6-0, and with it his ninth Monte Carlo Rolex Masters title.

Nadal said “I had to decide the match with my forehand”.

The match was full of long rallies as both men, two of the game’s greatest defenders, tracked down every ball that came their way and sent it back until they got an opening to take charge of the point. In the end, it was Nadal’s forehand, once the shot that defined his career, particularly down the line, which made the difference.

That shot has looked less than potent at times the last season and a half, especially in tight matches, but in the Monte Carlo final, at the scene of a third of his ATP 1000 trophy finals, it once again burst into life.

After the match, Nadal said ” I had to decide the match with my forehand”. He certainly did, and on no more a decisive point than match point.

Check out Nadal’s winning forehand on match point below.

Monfils hit some pretty impressive forehands, too. None more so than the one in the video below.

This was Nadal’s ninth Monte Carlo crown, his 68th title overall, and his 47th on clay.

Next up for Nadal is Barcelona, his home event, and one where he now has a chance to really stamp his mark on the 2016 clay court season.

With question marks over his chief rivals form, the nine times French Open champion has answered the questions about his with a resounding response and while we won’t know if he is truly back until he has a win over Djokovic or has regained his Roland Garros title, we do know he is back to winning European clay court titles and proving the mentally tougher in final sets, two things which will set him up nicely, and rightfully worry his rivals, as he challenges for a record breaking tenth Roland Garros title in the coming weeks.

Watch highlights of Nadal’s win over Monfils in the Monte Carlo Rolex Masters final below.

Posted in Clay, Clay Court Season, Five points, Gael Monfils, Monte Carlo, Monte Carlo 2016, Rafael Nadal, Review | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Monte Carlo Rolex Masters Final Preview Rafael Nadal Vesus Gael Monfils

nadal monfils

Photo courtesy of zimbio.com

The Monte Carlo Rolex Masters 2016 final will be contested by eight time champion Rafael Nadal (5) and Frenchman Gael Monfils (13). The Tennis Review previews the action and predicts the winner.

Both Nadal and Monfils come in to the final after traveling down very different roads this week.

Nadal has had mini struggles all the way, and then a monumental one in his semi-final with Murray. Monfils, meanwhile, has cruised through the draw without dropping a single set.

In Nadal’s first match he failed to serve out both sets versus Aljaz Bedene the first time of asking. In his last sixteen match versus Dominic Thiem, he was vulnerable on his serve again as he faced 17 break points. In his last eight match against Stan Wawrinka, he again struggled when it got close to closing out the match. In his last match, Nadal fell behind a set and looked in danger of being overwhelmed by Andy Murray in straights.

In each match, though, Nadal managed to survive the problems posed to him, something he has failed to do at times over the last season and a half since coming back from injury.

Nadal could not have asked for a better struggle to set him up for the rest of the clay season than the one Murray gave him.

If any match was going to remind him of his career achievements, it was this one, a come back three set win versus another member of the Big Four, one who had beaten him the last time they had met on clay.

The Scot took the first 6-2 with some fine clay play, the kind that earned him his best ever run on the surface last season. Nadal, though, wrestled control of the match at the end of the second set, his level rising and his forehand growing in depth, confidence and precision. Once the Spaniard took the set, he then dominated the third as he gave the kind of performance we were used to seeing in his heyday, like in 2011 when he defeated Murray in a similarly brutal three set Monte Carlo semi.

Nadal’s win over Murray this year brought him into his 10th Monte Carlo final, and his 100th career one, becoming the sixth man to achieve that feat.

In that final he will face Monfils who breezed past Jo-Wilfried Tsonga 6-1, 6-3 and enters his third ATP 1000 final, and his 24th overall.

That win over Tsonga was Monfils’ fourth straight sets win in a row after defeats of Gilles Muller, Paolo Lorenzi, Jiri Vesely, and Marcel Granollers.

Facing an in form Nadal, perhaps arguably his best form since 2014, in a final is tough enough, but it’s even tougher when you have a finals record like Monfils- 5-18- and  the head to head he has with the Spaniard- 2-11. The Frenchman has also only won 17 games and never won more than 3 games in a set in his four clay court matches versus the Spaniard.

So, on paper, this final looks like a certain win for Nadal.

This week has been a strange one, though, and while Nadal may look back to form, he did have some advantages in his match up with Murray in a match where his psychological edge over the Scot, who has struggled recently, paid dividends.

You could say he has an edge over Monfils, too, but there are two important factors in this final which may play a part in the outcome.

One is that Monfils has nothing to lose- Nadal is the runaway favorite here, and Monfils’ final record is such that he is always the underdog. Also, crowds love a home player and an underdog which means Monfils is going to receive plenty of support, and if he can the crowd going with his athletic skills and shot-making, he could really get some momentum going.

This match could be the perfect chance for Monfils, who has under-delivered throughout his career, to give the kind of performance he is capable of, one in which he combines his great defense, depth of shot, ability to track down balls, and fine, inspired shot-making skills, to realize his potential, which should have by now realized itself in the form of at least one ATP 1000 trophy.

Second, Nadal has not won an ATP 1000 since Madrid 2014, and while his gutsy three set win over Murray must give him confidence, we do not know how he will respond if Monfils feels inspired by the occasion before a home crowd and takes the match to him. Will the pressure be too much? Will Nadal, as strange as it sounds, with another ATP 1000 title a match away after two years in the wilderness, by his standards anyway, want this win too much?

Prediction: Nadal should win this, and if previous matches with Monfils on clay are anything to go by, he should win it without a fuss. But Monfils is having a good season, plays well on clay- his best ever slam finish is the Roland Garros semis- and he has the home crowd support so this might not be as straightforward as it seems.

Posted in Clay, Clay Court Season, Gael Monfils, Monte Carlo, Monte Carlo 2016, Preview, Rafael Nadal | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Monte Carlo Rolex Masters Semis Preview Nadal Vs Murray Tsonga Vs Monfils

Nadal Murray

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The Monte Carlo Rolex Masters Semis feature Rafa Nadal taking on Andy Murray and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga versus Gael Monfils. The Tennis Review previews the action and predicts the winner.

Rafa Nadal (4) Vs Andy Murray (2)

This match will really tell us where both men’s levels are at, particularly Nadal.

This event Nadal has had mini struggles in all his matches- failing to serve out both sets vs Bedene the first time he had the chance to do so, facing 17 break points versus Thiem, and losing a break of serve vs Wawrinka in the second set. Nadal survived all of them, an encouraging sign, but was helped a little by his rivals.

Murray will not offer any helping hands at all. The Scot is up for a fight this week, as showcased in his recovering from a set and two breaks down, and a break down in the final set, versus Benoit Paire. But like Nadal, Murray had Paire to help him out  a little, and in his 6-2, 6-0 defeat of Milos Raonic he benefited from an injured opponent.

But that is what both Nadal and Murray do so well- take what ever their opponents offer them, be it the mental fragility of Paire or Wawrinka or the abductor injury of Raonic, and then run with it all the way to the finish line.

The question is what weaknesses will they exploit in each other?

Nadal knows Murray can get frustrated under pressure. He knows that if he can overwhelm the Scot with brutal relentless hitting from the baseline, it could get on top of him not just on the court, but, even more destructively, in his head, too.

Murray will be aware Nadal has been struggling with his length of shot, particularly on the forehand, and with his confidence. If Nadal does get a lead, Murray will make him work to close it out, and his solid ball striking will ask plenty of questions of Nadal’s game on the big points.

Watch highlights of when Nadal and Murray met in the Monte Carlo 2011 semis below.

Last year in Madrid, Murray exploited Nadal’s weaknesses royally, and emphasized his own strengths as he used the fast conditions, which complement his game, in Madrid to his advantage and defeated Nadal in straights.

Monte Carlo is a world away from Madrid, though, and Nadal is far away from the player Murray defeated in the Spanish capital. The Rolex Masters courts are slower, which benefits Nadal, and the Spaniard is much more solid, more confident and hitting his forehand down the line better than he was 12 months back.

The Spaniard is king of the Monte Carlo courts, too, winning eight titles there. That will give him some confidence to play with the authority he will need if Murray, who has pushed Nadal hard in a few clay court matches over the course of their rivalry, threatens to inflict a rare loss on him at the venue.

Prediction: Nadal to win. The world No.5 has the advantage in this match up (leads 16-6), plays better on slow clay courts, and is the mentally tougher of the two. When things get tight, those factors should see him through.

Tsonga Monfils

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Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (8) Vs Gael Monfils (13)

The next best thing for the the Monte Carlo Rolex Masters crowd after a Federer-Djokovic semi is this one- two of France’s finest shot-makers and entertainers going head to head before a home crowd.

This will be the biggest stakes match between the two. They did meet in the 2012 Doha final, but this match is a chance to make an ATP 1000 final on a surface they both play well on and in their home country. Whoever they face in the final, they are going to have the crowd on their side and that might give them the edge.

The two have met six times, (Tsonga leads 4-2), but this is their first meeting on clay. Both men have had success on the surface, both reaching the Roland Garros semis and the Monte Carlo semis, too, with both men excelling at their very different styles, Tsonga an aggressive shotmaker, Monfils a more defensive one, on a surface which rewards both.

Tsonga will be feeling good, coming in off the back of a tough fought three set win over Federer. Meanwhile Monfils beat lucky loser Marcel Granollers in straightforward fashion.

What this match will come down to is mental toughness, an aspect both men struggle with, which could mean, considering the occasion, this match may have some interesting twists and turns.

Prediction: Tsonga. He has the advantage in the match up and the greater big match experience.

Watch highlights of Tsonga Monte Carlo quarter-final win over Federer below.

Posted in Andy Murray, Clay, Clay Court Season, Gael Monfils, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Monte Carlo, Monte Carlo 2016, Preview, Rafael Nadal | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

ATP Clay Court Season 2016 Seven Questions Djokovic Nadal Zverev Thiem

ATP Clay court

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The Clay Court Season is underway and there are plenty of questions tennis fans will have about what the red stuff will serve up. The Tennis Review gives you seven of them.

Will Novak Djokovic win the French Open and complete the career grand slam?

The big one. The question that will dominate the tennis media this Clay court season much like Djokovic dominates the ATP.

Once again, just as he did from 2011-2015, Djokovic goes into Roland Garros as the favorite, and once again, as he has done since 2012, he has to deal with the pressure that comes with not only that but also with trying to complete the career grand slam.

That pressure, and the pressure his opponents put on him has always gotten the better of him. In 2011, he was outplayed by Roger Federer, in 2012 he double faulted championship point down in a tight fourth set, in 2013 in the semis versus Nadal, he hit the net when leading by a break in the fifth, lost the point and never recovered, in 2014, he caught a virus and played one of his worst matches of the season after winning the opening set, and in 2015 he came up against a Stan Wawrinka armed with exactly the right game plan to beat him.

Will one of these scenarios stop him again? Will a new one get in the way such as an inspired up and comer or a lower ranked big hitter redlining? Or will Djokovic finally join Rod Laver, Andre Agassi, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer as the elite few to win the career slam?

Djokovic himself says winning Roland Garros is not an obsession, but a wish, a dream, and that he will tackle it step by step.

Certainly, many will be wishing Djokovic well as he attempts to live his dream. The French crowd have warmly applauded him the last couple of seasons when he has received his runners up trophy and he will not come undone because of a lack of support.

Whether or not Djokovic wins, he, like Sampras before him who could not win in Paris, or Lendl, who could not win Wimbledon, will go down as an all time great.

If he does win, he will, if he keeps picking up slams, go down, in some eyes, as the greatest. A dream every pro tennis player has when they set out on that long road to the top, one that for Djokovic will be just seven matches away in the third week of May.

Can Nadal ‘come back’?

Nadal is back in many ways- he is no. 5 in the ATP rankings, he has beaten the likes of Murray and Wawrinka this past year, and he took a set off Federer in the Basel final.

But he is not really back in the way which for many really matters- as the world’s greatest clay courter or even the reigning Roland Garros champion, a position he held nine times.

Little suggests he will get back there soon, but this is Nadal, the one-time comeback king, and his clay court season could turn on a single point.

That point could be won with confident decision making, and confidence is where the difference between coming back and ‘coming back’ really lie for Nadal.

That confidence might start with his comeback from match point down versus Alexander Zverev in Indian Wells or the tiebreak set he contested with Djokovic in the semis- the furthest he had taken the world No.1 in a set since he beat him in the 2014 Roland Garros final.

If Nadal can draw on those moments, he could get some more confidence going, and if he succeeds in doing so and goes into Roland Garros with an ATP 1000 final or title behind him, then we might see a very different Nadal to the one we have seen in big matches this past season, a Nadal none of his opponents, particularly Novak Djokovic, will want to see across the court from them in Paris.

Can Dominic Thiem or David Goffin reach an ATP 1000 final?

Thiem and Goffin are faces to watch this clay court season. Both have great clay games, have success on the surface, and are ranked in the top 15.

With both men experiencing success at ATP 250 and 500s, and Goffin has also had some success at ATP 1000s with recent semi-final finishes in Indian Wells and Miami (Thiem’s best finish at an ATP 1000 was Miami quarters 2015), the next step is to challenge for ATP 1000 titles and make finals.

Thiem has proven he can take on the big players with his Buenos Aires win from match point down versus Nadal and his close match with Djokovic in Miami. Goffin, too, has shown he can close out tough matches versus the elite with his win over Wawrinka in Indian Wells.

What we have yet to learn is whether they can do it in an ATP 1000 semi or final. If they can, then the next question will be can they do it at Roland Garros. Goffin has already had some success there, reaching the fourth round as a lucky loser in 2012 when he took a set off Federer. Thiem has not made it past the second round in his two visits to Roland Garros, but he has been to the US Open last sixteen.

This clay court season, the two might answer questions about their potential in matches against one another. With both seeded to reach the last sixteens or last eights at upcoming clay events, they could meet in the last eight or deeper. So far, their head to head is 4-2 in Goffin’s favor, but tied at 1-1 on Clay, with the Belgian taking their first clay court final in Kitzbuhel in 2014 and Thiem taking their 2015 Gstaad final.

Should the two contest another clay court final this season, that match, for those interested in how a future Roland Garros final might look, will be one to watch.

Watch highlights of Goffin versus Thiem in the 2015 Gstaad final below.

Will the Next Gen follow up on their first quarter success?

Alexander Zverev and Nick Kyrgios are part of tennis’s next generation and have been living up to that billing very well in the first quarter of 2016 with Zverev beating Cilic and Simon, and Kyrgios winning his first career title in Marseilles and making his first ATP 1000 quarter-final (Miami).

Both have had some success on clay- Zverev made the semis of the 2014 Hamburg Open and Kyrgios defeated Roger Federer in Madrid last year and was runner up in Estoril so the signs are there that both young men have the tools to keep their 2016 runs going strong.

With young players really struggling to break through on the tour the past few years, momentum is key for both these men. Zverev, ranked 54, and Kyrgios, 20, have put in the hard work to get that far, if they can keep focused and get some lucky breaks here and there, they could rise even higher this clay court season and keep doing the fine job they have been doing of breathing some new life into the ATP tour.

Can Stan Wawrinka defend his Roland Garros title?

The streakiest of slam winners, Wawrinka has shown a more consistent level since winning Roland Garros last year going on to win ATP 500 crowns in Tokyo and Dubai and winning in Chennai.

Last season, Wawrinka stunned many tennis fans when he came back from a set down to overwhelm Djokovic in the Roland Garros final. This year, he could repeat that feat or crash out in the first round, and his incoming form will make us none the wiser when it comes to predictions.

The 2014 Monte Carlo champion will benefit in some way from Djokovic’s French Open quest. Much of the media focus will be on the No.1 and not on the defending champion. Under the radar and on the big stage is where the Swiss likes to be- if he gets there again, that could be, much like his 2015 Roland Garros win, a pretty stunning scene.

Can Murray repeat his 2015 Clay form?

Murray is world No.2 right now and part of the reason for that was his consistency across all surfaces last season.

The Scot, who developed on the clay courts of Barcelona as a teen, had always under-performed on the surface until last year when he won Munich, Madrid, beating Nadal in the final, and took Djokovic to five sets in the Roland Garros semi.

This season, Murray has had mixed fortunes- he made the Australian Open final for the fifth time but lost early in both Indian Wells and Miami despite leading 3-1 in the third sets of both matches.

With the grass season just a couple of months away, the clay court season is when Murray needs to get some confidence.

Memories of his 2015 clay court season might be just what the Scot needs to get his game- which when on is one of the few that can trouble Novak Djokovic- going and to get his season back to one worthy of a world No.2.

How will Federer fare coming back from his first ever surgery?

Federer has done amazingly well to not have had surgery his entire 18 year career. The 2009 Roland Garros champ has only been sidelined for 2 months as a result, and has been ready to return for a couple of weeks, but how will the surgery impact his game and will there be any mental effects?

In Monte Carlo, where Federer makes his much awaited return to the tour, everything looks very positive. Federer has talked about how he has benefited from the rest he has had as a result of the surgery, the fine preparation he has had with nine to ten days of practice in Monte Carlo, and the fact his knee has not bothered him.

What he does not know, he says, is how the knee will hold up in match conditions. Fortunately, Federer’s comeback coincides with the clay which will be forgiving on the knee, and his playing in front of European clay court fans who will, if his knee struggles to support him in a tight match, do as much as they can to compensate.

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