Rafael Nadal Can Win the French Open on Grand Slam Return
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One of the biggest questions that has been floating around the tennis world in recent months is the return of Rafael Nadal and whether he will be the same player after an eight-month layoff with a serious knee injury.
Before the serious wrist injury that forced del Potro to take an 18-month break from the game, he was looking like the most likely successor to Roger Federer and Nadal. He won the U.S. Open in 2009, and was beginning to look a threat on every surface.
In the time del Potro was out, Novak Djokovic emerged as the main man, and in 2012, Andy Murray really kicked on, winning his first Grand Slam title, claiming Olympic Gold and reaching the Wimbledon final.
Although del Potro has enjoyed a modicum of success, including winning a bronze medal at the Olympics, he hasn't threatened to win a Grand Slam since his return from injury.
So where does this leave Nadal?
In the 8 months since he picked up his injury, the landscape of the game has changed enormously. Andy Murray has become the player everybody always knew he could be, Novak Djokovic has continued to win tournaments galore and Roger Federer has showed no real signs of slowing down. Nadal's prolonged absence has even seen him slip out of the top four, with David Ferrer moving up in the rankings.
Nadal made his first tentative steps towards a comeback this week, reaching the final of the Chile Open. This would be a success in anybody's book, but it came as something of a shock when the Spaniard lost in the final, highlighting his lack of time on court over the last few months.
Which leads to the big question. Can Nadal defend his French Open title? This is a tournament that Nadal has dominated, winning it seven times out of the last eight, with only Roger Federer breaking the sequence in 2009 after Nadal was defeated in the fourth round by Robin Soderling. Last year, Nadal was outstanding as he defeated Djokovic in four sets in a weather-interrupted final.
It is a tough ask for anybody to win a Grand Slam under normal circumstances, but winning one while coming back from such an injury would normally be impossible.
But this is Rafael Nadal we are talking about. The King of Clay. If anybody can do it, he can. There is not a better player on a clay court than himself. He still has plenty of time and tournaments to get himself in the physical condition necessary to win seven matches and take the title.
The biggest challenge, like always, will come from Novak Djokovic. He made his first Roland Garros final last year, and will be hungry for the one Grand Slam title still to elude him. Andy Murray isn't ready to win on clay just yet, and Nadal has proven that he has the beating of Federer on a clay court on numerous occasions.
It would be a staggering achievement were he to manage it, and his results in the lead up to the event will give us some idea of whether he is capable of doing it.
What cannot be questioned is that Nadal is a special player and tremendous character, and it will only be a matter of time before he is back challenging at the very top of the game.
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