April 23, 2015

Stumbling Blocks

Okay, first of all, everyone calm down.

This isn't the first time Rafael Nadal has lost on clay.

Just last year, in fact, he lost in the quarterfinals in Barcelona and Monte Carlo and even ceded the top spot in Rome back to Novak Djokovic. He still did just fine though, picking up a Masters crown in Madrid and, of course, that historic ninth trophy at Roland Garros.

Still, you have to admit something feels a little different this time around.

The former world #1 has had a tough time coming back from his most recent injury -- he failed to defend titles in Doha and Rio. He's only picked up one title this year, and didn't have to beat a top-fifty player to do it.

And earlier today he suffered his second straight loss to an also-struggling Fabio Fognini -- the Italian, off his best game at #30 in the world, took out the second seed in Barcelona in straight sets, needing less than an hour to notch the upset and handing the clay court king his earliest loss on the surface in nearly three years.

Fognini is now only the second player on Tour to beat Rafa more than once on dirt in the same season. One guess as to who the other man is?

Sure, Novak Djokovic has gotten the better of Nadal a couple times now, most recently taking him out in the Monte Carlo semis. He's even had chances at the French Open, the one place where Rafa's remained relatively unbeatable. But this seems like the biggest opportunity he's had to unseat the legend in Paris. And with just a few weeks left before the next Grand Slam, he might just be chomping at the bit.

Still, Nadal always has a way of surprising us -- especially this time of year -- and if he's able to learn something from these early losses, he might just be able to regroup in time.

But one things for sure -- the race for the title in Roland Garros this year might just be the tightest we've seen in over a decade.

No comments: