Why did I ever doubt him? The undisputed King of Clay (and perhaps King of Tennis if he can continue his fine 2017 form onto the grass and hard courts) Rafael Nadal won his record-shattering 10th Roland Garros title on Sunday with an easy victory over Stan Wawrinka. It wasn’t the exciting, open tournament I had anticipated in truth, with really only Dominic Thiem threatening to make some noise after his sensational performance over Novak Djokovic in the quarter finals, and of course Stan the Man himself, who had up until the final played his best tennis, including the match of the tournament against Andy Murray in the semi finals, but he simply wasn’t allowed to play on Sunday.
Rafa is back and he’s here to stay folks. Now we all wonder just what is he going to do on the grass courts this year? He hasn’t reached a Wimbledon quarter final since 2011, although he did take the Stuttgart title in 2015. I think one reason to be optimistic if you’re a Rafan is this: his knees held up on the hard courts earlier this year, and also like Roger this season, Rafa has a beefed up backhand of his own. He’s taking the ball about as early as I’ve ever seen him, and choosing to run around to his forehand much less: two adjustments which will reduce his step count on the grass where there is less stability for his knees. I honestly like his chances of making the second week.
Of course the main news before the grass court season is that Roger Federer is back… again! Roger even addressed this in Stuttgart, stating that there will be “no more breaks”, and injury permitting, he intends to play a full schedule from now until the end of the season. Not the best news for the rest of the draw huh? Still, Roger needs matches now, he’s clearly going for that 8th Wimbledon title, and he’s not played since Miami which was two months ago now. The early matches in Stuttgart may be crucial, and by the looks of it he’ll face his good friend Tommy Haas, who will be pumped for the last grass season of his career; and is more than capable of playing excellent tennis to bring about the upset.
Here’s the full Stuttgart draw:
- Roger Federer vs Tommy Haas/Pierre-Hugues Herbert
- Yannick Hanfmann vs Mischa Zverev
- Tomas Berdych vs Stephane Robert/Bernard Tomic
- Florian Mayer/Jeremy Chardy vs Feliciano Lopez/Gilles Simon
- Steve Johnson vs Marcos Baghdatis/Phillip Kohlschreiber
- Jan-Lennard Struff vs Lucas Pouille
- Victor Troicki/Benoit Paire vs Nikoloz Basilashvili/Peter Gojowczyk
- Andrey Kuznetsov/Jerzy Janowicz vs Grigor Dimitrov
That’s a pretty stacked player field for a 250 event! Tells one a lot doesn’t it, the players clearly would love more grass on the ATP tour. and so would the fans. Why is there 6 hard court and 3 clay court masters events, and none on grass? Come on now ATP. There needs to be more balance on the tour. Can you imagine how many Masters titles Federer would have now if there was a dedicated grass season just as there is on clay? He’d be challenging Rafa’s clay numbers.
One more thing that we need to talk about is the Race to London. Nadal has booked his spot emphatically, and is now almost 3000 points clear of Federer in second. This means that even if Roger sweeps the grass season and wins Wimbledon, Rafa will still be ahead. That doesn’t take into account the points Rafa could win during Wimbledon as well. All Rafa needs to do now is rack up consistent results, not even titles, and the number 1 spot is his. Thiem, Wawrinka and Zverev are interestingly all above Djokovic and Murray, who both need big second halves of the season. Thiem (23), Zverev (20) and Goffin (26) are the only players under 30 currently in the London spots. Who says tennis is a young man’s game?
I can’t end this post without talking about Djokovic and Murray. Murray I feel had a successful tournament, he almost made a slam final and I think his performance in Paris, whilst not blowing anyone away, will give him some momentum for the grass which is his best surface. He’s got to be second or third favourite for Wimbledon behind Roger and Rafa at this moment in time. For Djokovic, seesh who knows with this guy anymore? Just when you think things are on the up for him, he turns up for one set with Thiem in a slam quarter final! He just isn’t himself, his heart’s just not in it like it was. There’s an air of uncertainty around him currently, with Agassi saying that he’d like to work with Novak for the grass season, but doesn’t know if it’ll happen yet. Novak’s also referenced potentially hiring another coach to create a new team. What direction does he want to go in right now, does he even know? He’s got an all-time great in Agassi who will offer him a lot if he lets him, currently waiting around as a long-term agreement hasn’t been sussed out yet.
I don’t know, I just think that Nole needs to be sending out a stronger signal than this. That Agassi will be with me for x amount of weeks, and that I will be doing this and that… You get what I mean. Right now he isn’t down to play an event before Wimbledon, and I’m not sure that’s a good idea for him, he needs matches. If he gets upset at Wimbledon, then what? He’d be going into the US Open series with no recent tournament wins, hardly any match wins by his lofty standards, and potentially Roger and Rafa being red hot. I don’t know. He needs to decide what he wants to do and he needs to decide now. By that I mean come up with an all-guns blazing plan for the second half of the season, or to just pull the plug for 2017, rest up, rejuvenate and come back for 2018 with a freaking team in place and Agassi as head coach. Rafa has Francisco Roig and Carlos Moya, Fed has Ivan Ljubicic, Severin Luthi and Pierre Paganini. They have game-plans, they know what direction they’re going in. Nole right now just doesn’t. That needs to change if he’s going to win slams again.