Welcome to Tennis Elbow, the column that looks back on the week that was in the world of tennis. This week, Charles Blouin-Gascon reviews the 2018 clay court season so far.
Well this has been fun, hasn’t it?
Now that we get a week off to catch our breath ever so slightly before Roland Garros, let’s see if we can’t process all that’s unfolded over the previous month before we move on to the big prize at the end of the clay rainbow.
As we head to Paris, we can safely say that our level of confidence in making predictions for the men’s and women’s main draws is at complete odds with one another. And it’s in part due to what we’ve seen since the calendar turned to April.
Let’s run through some of these lessons, starting with the most obvious one.
Couldn’t be happier traveling back home now with this trophy in my hands… Took this picture at the locker room for you guys, Thanks for the support!!! pic.twitter.com/iNbbdOKGXe
— Rafa Nadal (@RafaelNadal) May 20, 2018
There is no greater King than Rafael Nadal
It bears no repeating at this point, but why not do it anyway? At 31 years old, Rafael Nadal has barely more career losses on clay than the number of years he’s been on this Earth with a preposterous winning percentage of almost 92%: 408 wins and only 36 losses. He’s also up to 55 clay titles, many of which have helped him tally a record 32 Masters 1000 titles. In short, plenty of different stats seem to tell the same story—that Nadal really is pretty much unbeatable on clay.
Unless he plays Dominic Thiem?
Lest we forget, the last two times the King of Clay has lost on his preferred surface came against Dominic Thiem in Roma in last year and recently in Madrid. Sure, the Austrian didn’t go on to win anything either times, but there should be a new edict in the sport whereby a player gets some sort of recognition for beating Nadal on a clay court. Maybe Thiem doesn’t have a title to his name that’s worthy of so much, but when you have two wins over Nadal what more could you ask for?
Will a real favourite please stand up in women’s tennis?
Over the past two weeks especially, a number of players seemed prime and ready to dominate only to trip over not long after. Sure Petra Kvitova won the Mutua Madrid Open title, but she seems to have gotten hurt in doing so. Elina Svitolina emerged victorious in Rome, but that title came after a second-round exit in Madrid. Simona Halep did everything well in the Italian capital but couldn’t close the deal in the final, which has emerged as a bit of a theme for the Romanian if you squint and are convinced of it in the first place. Maria Sharapova had a good enough two-week run, but she still doesn’t seem fully comfortable. Maybe you want to throw all you have behind Caroline Garcia, who was the only player to reach the Rome and Madrid semifinals?
But just don’t ask Serena Williams.
Earlier this year, Serena Williams came back too soon. Here, that’s not us thinking so but it’s Williams’s coach Patrick Mouratoglou saying this to the WTA website. If we are to believe Mouratoglou, Williams will be in tiptop shape when the French Open starts in a week and things will be back to how they were before her pregnancy.
But are we so sure? Williams is a tennis player, yes, about to play one of her sport’s four big events, sure, but she also was just invited TO THE ROYAL WEDDING ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!? Tennis is great of course, but it’s no match for #HarryAndMeghan.
— Serena Williams (@serenawilliams) May 19, 2018
We still don’t really know all that much about Novak Djokovic.
In Rome this past week, the Serb had the kind of tournament that seemed to be routine and the norm for him for the first time in a very, very, very long time: he beat a handful of tricky opponents before bowing out versus Nadal in the semifinal, and it’s pretty crazy that it’s come to this but these days this counts as real progress for him. Is he or isn’t he injured? Well Novak Djokovic certainly is playing so if anything he’s hurt but not injured.
Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG