Nadal is hoping to come back strong in 2013.
Rafael Nadal’s 2012 season ended both prematurely and on a bit of a down note.
He had a strong start to the season, making it all the way to the Australian Open final for the second time in his career, in which he lost quite possibly the most memorable match of 2012 against Novak Djokovic.
He followed that with his usual strong clay season, in which he broke Djokovic’s streak of seven consecutive victories in the rivalry and started a streak of his own, which currently stands at three with wins at Monte-Carlo, Rome and Roland Garros. A few weeks after capturing his seventh crown in eight years in Paris, Nadal returned to the hallowed halls of Wimbledon, looking to win his third title.
His campaign ended, however, in a shocking and abrupt manner, being knocked out by unknown Lukas Rosol in the second round in five sets.
Nadal has not played since, after a knee injury that has bothered him throughout his career forced him out of the Olympic Games—where he was going to be Spain’s flag bearer—and subsequent tournaments.
Here are five predictions for his return.
Rafael Nadal, along with Novak Djokovic, partook in one of the greatest Grand Slam finals ever at the 2012 Australian Open.
While it is true that Rafael Nadal has not played a point of competitive tennis since June 28, tennis fans all over the world have seen him come back from a long period away from the courts in dominant fashion. One just has to look at his stellar 2010 season, his best to date.
Nadal has already shown his level of comfort at the Australian Open. He may not be as comfortable there as he is at Wimbledon or in Paris, but he is still a one-time champion and two-time finalist.
Given his talent and competition level, as well as the level of the tour beyond the big four, one should expect Nadal to make it to at least the semifinals of the Australian Open. It should not come as a surprise either, if he sneaks into the final or even wins it, given his determination. The latter is less likely, however, as Melbourne has become Novak Djokovic’s domain the last 2 years.
Rafael Nadal on the red clay is as close as one gets to a sure thing in tennis.
There is no need to list his accolades or accomplishments in the surface, because they are as vast as they are well known. Ever since 2005, it has become almost impossible for other tennis players to break through and win titles at the major clay tournaments. Only Novak Djokovic in 2011 and Roger Federer here and there have been able to break the Nadal monotony.
It is no secret that the red clay is where Nadal feels the most comfortable and that it usually serves as a springboard for the rest of the year. Nadal owns Monte Carlo, having won it each of the past eight years.
Even if his beginning to the 2013 season is not as strong as it usually is, one should count on the clay master tournaments to give him the necessary momentum to have a successful campaign.
Out of all the predictions that could be made regarding Nadal’s upcoming season, this is probably the least surprising and the most expected.
There is, however, a reason for that.
Nadal has been the undisputable King of Paris since his debut in 2005. His only hiccup came in 2009, when he fell to Robin Soderling in surprising fashion. Every other year he has dominated his way to the trophy.
This year it will be no different. Nadal boasts an overall record of 52-1 at Roland Garros and currently holds a 21-match winning streak in the venue. Last season was supposed to be the one in which he was finally vanquished in a French Open final, when he faced Novak Djokovic in a long-awaited match, yet he once again prevailed in his favorite court, slaying the demons Djokovic had created for the time being.
It is unlikely that his campaign at Roland Garros will be as dominant as it was in 2008, 2010 and 2012, given that he only lost a single set in the three tournaments combined, but he will still prevail to raise his 8th trophy in 9 years.
Last season, the world watched stupefied as Nadal, who had made it to the final in his five previous appearances at Wimbledon, was upset in the 2nd round.
Rafael Nadal is one of, if not the most competitive man in the sport, and any tennis fan can tell that if there is one place where he would like to make a statement this upcoming year, it is at the Mecca of the sport.
A deep run would not necessarily constitute winning the tournament, but I do expect Nadal to make the final. If he does not, he will at least battle as hard as possible to make it happen. Going into the season the top two favorites to hoist the trophy at Wimbledon will most likely be defending and seven-time champion Roger Federer and current World No. 1 Novak Djokovic.
One of them will probably have to face Nadal in the semifinals, however, and he will be the toughest possible opponent at that stage.
If one thing is certain, it is that Nadal will enter the third slam of the year with blood in his eyes and a thirst to prove something, not to tennis fans or the media, but to himself.
Out of all the predictions made, this is easily the boldest one of all. That is not a slight to Nadal’s game or talent but a tribute to the current depth of men’s tennis, especially when the end of the year rolls around and those who have played the most matches are also the ones that are the most exhausted.
In Nadal’s case, there is something else that could work against him.
That is the fact that the last time he won a tournament on a hard court was in Tokyo in 2010, which was also his best season yet.
Since then, Nadal has made several finals, but fallen in each and every one of them. That is due mostly to Novak Djokovic, who has dominated the surface the past two seasons, rarely losing a match.
It is possible, though, that if Nadal manages his schedule well, he could win one of the hard-court tournaments in the later part of the season. At the same time, it would not be surprising at all if he went on and raised the trophies at any of the hard court Masters 1000 at the beginning of the year or at either the Australian Open or the U.S. Open.
If there is anything Rafael Nadal has taught the tennis world since he broke through, it's that the last thing one should ever do is underestimate him.