When you think of the French Open in the 21st century, there is almost exclusively one man pictured time and again on the clay courts of Roland Garros holding up the men’s singles trophy.
After 12 successes in Paris over the last 15 years, Rafael Nadal has truly earned his “king of clay” nickname. Nobody has been able to live with the Spaniard at his best at Roland Garros.
Just when Nadal thought he had done it all at the French Open, however, the unique circumstances of 2020 pose him a new challenge. The back-page headlines crowing about his dominance of this surface and this particular arena are splashed about in
the press each and every June.
Not so this year. Roland Garros has delayed their Grand Slam offering until September with the finals taking place in early October. This is an unprecedented step in French Open history, but necessity is the mother of invention and the traditional slot of late May for the beginning of the tournament just isn’t possible.
It is easy to shrug your shoulders and say so what? What difference does delaying Roland Garros make? Nadal has won this tournament so many times before that it doesn’t matter when in the year it takes place.
The market remains very much in his favour with outright 2020 French Open tennis betting odds of 10/11 saying Nadal will extend his formidable record in Paris to a 13th men’s singles victory. Bookmakers are 18/1 bar him for 2016 winner Novak Djokovic and dual Roland Garros finalist Dominic Thiem.
What you can take from that is that the men’s game on clay is far less open than the women. Odds compilers can’t really have Nadal – a previous winner on a dozen different occasions – anything other than a hot favourite.
This French Open isn’t in its usual place in the annual tennis calendar, however, and the entire clay-court season is lost. Roland Garros now comes hot off the heels of the hard court Grand Slam stateside at Flushing Meadows starting some seven days after the US Open men’s singles final.
Never before in the Open Era have two Slams been put so close together. Dealing with that is something Nadal and every other tennis pro must contend with, but the autumn is a time of year when it’s fair to say by his very high standards that we haven’t always seen the best of him.
A look back over the very illustrious career of Nadal shows he has won just one ATP Tour title in September or October since 2010. In fact, since landing both the 2005 China Open and Madrid Masters, he has won just two ATP singles tournaments in either month.
It’s clearly a downtime for Nadal after what is traditionally a hectic summer schedule of clay, then grass-court action culminating in Wimbledon, and the move from Europe to America and hard surfaces which ends with the US Open. How he adapts out of the traditional routine and handles an autumnal French Open in his mid-30s will be fascinating.