FRENCH OPEN 2015: Nadal’s slump could open way for Djokovic

May 21, 2015, 10:49 AM

FILE – In this May 10, 2015, file photo, Rafael Nadal, of Spain, makes a speech after losing ...

FILE - In this May 10, 2015, file photo, Rafael Nadal, of Spain, makes a speech after losing to Andy Murray of Britain during the men's final at the Madrid Open Tennis tournament in Madrid, Spain. For years and years _ a full decade, in fact _ Nadal has dominated the French Open the way no one has ever dominated a Grand Slam tennis tournament. Despite the way he's ruled Roland Garros, Novak Djokovic is considered the man to beat, (AP Photo/Paul White, File)

(AP Photo/Paul White, File)

For years and years — a full decade, in fact — Rafael Nadal ruled the French Open the way no one had ever dominated any Grand Slam tennis tournament, winning 66 of 67 matches and collecting nine championships, including the last five in a row.

This year, his far-poorer-than-usual results on red clay and acknowledged crisis of confidence are generating talk that his reign at Roland Garros might be about to end.

When the season’s second major tournament begins Sunday, the lefty from Spain will not be the favorite, despite what he’s done in the past. Instead, Novak Djokovic is considered the man to beat, as he bids to complete a career Grand Slam and extend a terrific season that includes the Australian Open title and a current 22-match winning streak.

“Nadal has shown some weakness this year, both physically and mentally, that we just haven’t seen from him, and I think that’s turned the light on in the locker room for some other players,” U.S. Davis Cup captain Jim Courier, a two-time French Open champion in the 1990s, said in a telephone interview. “There are players now who think they can get him, and I don’t know that, other than maybe Novak, that was necessarily the case before.”

There are other story lines to watch, as always.

What is Roger Federer still capable of at age 33? Can Andy Murray stay unbeaten as a married man? Could Serena Williams become the third woman with 20 major titles? Could Maria Sharapova win a third French Open championship in four years?

Yet nothing should be as fascinating as following the paths of Nadal and Djokovic.

So far in 2015, Nadal is 17-5 on clay. Not terrible, but certainly not up to his usual standards.

This is a guy who went 126-4 on the surface from 2006-10. He last lost more than three clay matches in a single season all the way back in 2003.

His heavy topspin forehand hasn’t been as reliable. He’s been less aggressive. Courier sees movement that’s not as fluid, too, with a longer, less powerful stride.

There are other issues for Nadal, whose 14 Grand Slam titles are tied with Pete Sampras for second-most among men, behind Federer’s 17. His only French Open loss came against Robin Soderling in the fourth round in 2009.

Humility long has been a Nadal trademark, but he’s been unusually frank about feeling nervous and lacking self-belief.

“I’m still playing with too much nerves for a lot of moments, in important moments, still playing a little bit anxious in those moments,” Nadal said in late March. “But I’m going to fix it. I don’t know if in one week, in six months, or in one year, but I’m going to do it.”

In 2014, he arrived at Roland Garros with three losses on clay and appeared vulnerable to some, then began slowly.

By the end of the 15-day tournament — surprise! — Nadal had collected yet another trophy.

“Players carry scar tissue with them from difficult defeats. Nadal has been the best I’ve seen at putting minor defeats and minor issues behind him and just looking ahead to the next point. But it feels like this year he’s carrying a little bit of the weight of past misses and isn’t looking ahead with quite the same crystal-clear vision he’s had,” Courier said. “You can see a little frustration in his eyes at times, something that we would never really see before.”

Chris Evert, whose 18 Grand Slam titles included seven at the French Open, thinks opponents notice.

“Look at his face,” Evert said in a telephone interview. “He seems baffled: ‘Why can’t I hit those winners like I used to?'”

If Nadal truly is different this time around, Djokovic seems best positioned to take advantage.

In 10 previous appearances at Roland Garros, Djokovic exited six times against Nadal, including each of the past three years — twice in the final, once in a semifinal.

Djokovic can become the first man since Courier in 1992 to win the Australian Open and French Open in the same year, moving halfway to a calendar-year Grand Slam.

“We’ll take it step by step,” Djokovic said, “and see how far I can go.”


Follow Howard Fendrich on Twitter at http://twitter.com/HowardFendrich

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


Associated Press

Royals rally on Murphy’s error, beat Mets, lead Series 3-1

The Kansas City Royals keep finding new ways to win this October. And now with one more victory in November, they will be World Series champions.

9 years ago


Associated Press

Shock beat Mercury in final regular-season game before move

Rookie Brianna Kiesel scored a career-best 28 points to help the Shock beat the Phoenix Mercury 91-87 Sunday in the team's final regular-season home game before the franchise moves to Dallas next year.

9 years ago

Follow @AZSports...

Arizona Sports

Fox Sports’ Mike Pereira wants high school football team suspended for vicious hit on official

If Fox Sports NFL rules anyalist Mike Pereira had his way, a high school football team in Texas would forfit its season for the conduct of two its players on a game official Friday.

9 years ago

Calais Campbell (93) is wrapped up by guard Mike Iupati after coming down with an interception duri...

Adam Green

Notes from the Nest: Arizona Cardinals training camp – Aug. 4

Tuesday's afternoon practice had a different feel to it because Carson Palmer did not participate.

9 years ago

Arizona Sports

Mardy Fish handed first-round loss to Dudi Sela in Atlanta

The first stop of Mardy Fish's farewell tour ended quickly with a 6-4, 6-4 first-round loss to Dudi Sela in the Atlanta Open on Tuesday night.

9 years ago

UEFA President Michel Platini watches the preliminary draw for the 2018 soccer World Cup in Konstan...

Arizona Sports

AP Sources: Michel Platini will run for FIFA president

Michel Platini will run for FIFA president and plans to announce his intentions this week.

9 years ago

FRENCH OPEN 2015: Nadal’s slump could open way for Djokovic