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Madrid: Who Can Topple Nadal?

May 12, 2010

Much attention surrounds the final clay court Masters series despite still lacking a few top names. Juan Martin del Potro is recovering from wrist surgery, Nikolay Davydenko is trying to heal a broken wrist, and Novak Djokovic is battling allergy problems. There are, however, a few players to watch as they hit the clay for the last time before the French Open, and they are not just the top seeds.

When discussing a clay court tournament it is impossible to avoid mentioning the clear favourite to every clay court event he enters and wondering if anyone can beat him. Rafael Nadal often seems indestructible on his favourite surface but an unlikely conquerer emerged in Robin Soderling during the French Open 2009. In 2010 he once again is clearly the best clay court player but there is a slight chink in his armor. There is a belief that he can be beaten.

Ernests Gulbis is the most recent player to come close to taking out the Spaniard. He took a set and ran Nadal late into the third in their semi-final match in Rome. Gulbis took advantage of a slightly off Nadal with booming serves and controlled ground strokes. However, as many do, Gulbis eventually fell. The result a combination of his nerves and Nadal’s rock solid belief. Gulbis has already won his first round match against Albert Montanes and as I type is up a set on Mikhail Youzhny. His form so far suggests he is still on track this season, if he wants to meet Nadal though, he will have to play some excellent tennis to make the finals.

Robin Soderling is going under the radar once again. He has had some success on clay but is yet to set up a much anticipated rematch with Nadal. Should they meet, Soderling is bound to bring some renewed determination to his game. He will have to get past Fernando Verdasco first if he wants to meet him in Madrid. Mind you, Soderling may be content to leave it until the French Open.

Verdasco, meanwhile, has been the second best clay-courter this season, but although he has been taking out top seeds like Djokovic with apparent ease, Verdasco has come nowhere near to challenging Nadal. He was embarassed 6-0 6-1 by Nadal in the finals of Monte Carlo. He clearly has a mental block against his compatriot and unless he overcomes it and finds the belief and determination to win, Verdasco will continue to play second fiddle to Nadal.

The huge question mark in Madrid is hanging over the head of defending champion, Roger Federer. His season has been lackluster following his Australian Open win but as we all know with Federer there is no need to hit the panic button just yet. There is no doubt Federer fans are squirming in their seats a little. There is some reprieve in that he cannot meet Nadal until the final. Whether he can beat Nadal on clay is not the question, he proved he could this time last year. The question is whether Federer can find his form in time to meet Nadal in the final clay court Masters.

Madrid isn’t the most wide open tournament in the books but there certainly are players ready to crash Nadal’s party. Whether any of them can capitalise on it will be discovered this week. Unfortunately, besides Federer, Nadal’s strongest competition and the man most likely to add a third dimension to the clay-court duo will have to wait. The man with the game, determination, and will to beat Nadal cannot be found on the Madrid practise courts but instead in a tiny country town of Tandil resting his wrist. The question is, is anyone else willing to step up to the challenge?

Tennis needs Roger Federer-Rafael Nadal rivalry to resume

3 Comments leave one →
  1. May 14, 2010 5:07 am

    Gulbis – Federer rematch tomorrow! A huge litmus test for the might Fed. If Gulbis can get a 2nd consecutive victory over Roger, I’m not sure if he’ll have much confidence at all going into the French. He’ll still be the best player ever though, so he will have that going for him…

  2. May 14, 2010 5:10 am

    Sorry, I meant to say “the mighty Fed” in that last comment.

    While I’m here I’d like to say that Madrid has gone beyond my expectations this year. Murray has picked up his play, and so has Monfils – so I’m happy for that. Plus Ferrer, as usual, has been spectacular. How long can he keep up this amazing run on the clay? If it lasts another 2 weeks he’ll be deep in the French – a place that I feel he belongs. I hope he can get there, I love his fighting spirit.

    • May 14, 2010 7:07 am

      I adore Ernie to pieces, which is clear by the amount I post about him, but my love for Fed is first and foremost, (Ernie actually comes in third, behind delPo). I agree Fed will lose a lot of confidence and more importantly aura if he loses before the final or even loses in the final to anyone but Nadal. However, Fed is always going to intimidate opponents just by who he is in Slams and we all know he can raise his game. He is of course, looking good in Madrid so far.

      I cannot stand Murray and feel his play has picked up because of the surface and his lack of opposistion. If he can beat Ferrer tonight I will be more convinced of his clay court prowress. Monfils does seem to have put down the pokerstars for a moment to work on his play and this is a good thing. My brother chatted to him on pokerstars briefly a few weeks ago and Monfils said ‘maybe’ to Michael saying that he could beat Nadal. I’m not convinced the belief is there… (I hope it is).

      I don’t think Ferrer is that good. He has had easy draws and we are missing so many great players like delPo. Yes he can play on clay but I am not surprised nor excited (read: worried) about his form. He concerned me by practically saying Nadal is unbeatable on clay. What kind of attitude is that?

      Thanks for your insightful comments 🙂

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