Novak Djokovic may be the No. 1-ranked player in the world, but his recent play doesn't reflect that. With the French Open drawing near, all signs point to Rafael Nadal being the runaway winner of the year's second Grand Slam.
While the Serbian star has had a great year overall with a 28-4 record and three titles, his past two tournaments have not gone according to plan. Not only did Djokovic bow out in the second round of the Madrid Open against Grigor Dimitrov last week, but he was also upset by Tomas Berdych in the quarterfinals of the Rome Masters on Friday, according to Sky Sports.
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Novak Djokovic knocked out of Rome Masters after losing 2-6 7-5 6-4 in the quarter finals to Tomas Berdych #ssn5/17/2013, 2:39:44 PM
It's difficult to say why Djokovic is suddenly struggling, but perhaps a minor injury has something to do with it. According to BBC Sport, Djokovic has been bothered by pain in his ankle, but the world's top player certainly didn't use that as an excuse.
I know I can play well on clay and so I shouldn't allow myself to have these drops. Let's hope it won't happen for Roland Garros, Djokovic said of the French Open, the only major he has not won. I'm fine. I just lost my rhythm. It's a very strange situation.
It's a strange situation, indeed, as Djokovic seems to be playing his worst tennis at a time when he should be playing his best. With both the French Open and Wimbledon coming up over the next several weeks, Djoker must figure out a way to straighten out his game. With that said, it's unlikely that he'll figure something out by the time the French Open starts in little over a week.
Things have actually played out perfectly for Djokovic recently, but his form isn't good enough to take advantage of it. Sky Sports is reporting that world No. 2 Andy Murray could miss the French Open due to a back injury, so one hurdle is potentially already out of Djokovic's way.
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Andy Murray says he could miss the French Open due to lower back pain #SSN5/15/2013, 3:56:21 PM
In addition to that, Nadal is only the No. 5-ranked player at the moment. It's obvious that he is really the second or third-best player at worst, but the fact that he missed seven months with a knee injury affected his ranking adversely. While that is bad news for Nadal in terms of seeding, it could be beneficial to Djokovic as he may not have to face him until the finals.
With the way Djokovic is playing, however, he could very easily fall short of the finals anyway. He has been losing to inferior players in recent weeks and simply doesn't look like the guy who has won six career Grand Slams. The only missing piece in Djokovic's career Grand Slam is the French Open, but it's hard to imagine him completing the quartet this year.
Nadal is playing at an extremely high level as he has lost just two matches this year and has five titles to his credit. One of his losses was to Djokovic in the Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters back in April, but he and Djokovic have been moving in different directions since then. Rafa is 13-0 since that defeat and he hasn't shown any signs of slowing down, especially on clay.
It can be argued that Nadal is the greatest clay-court player of all time and there is no doubt that he is the best on clay currently. Nadal has won the French Open a modern-era record seven times and all of those victories have come over the course of the past eight years. His dominance at Roland Garros is unprecedented.
Even at his best, Djokovic would be hard pressed to beat Nadal in the French Open. Djokovic is barely showcasing a fraction of his ability right now, though, so knocking off Nadal is out of the question. There is no margin for error when facing Nadal on clay, and Djokovic is simply making far too many mistakes and doesn't seem to be locked in.
Although it isn't as if Nadal needed any help winning the French Open, Murray's injury, Roger Federer's declining play and especially Djokovic's rough patch all but ensure an eighth French Open triumph for Rafa.
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