Rafael Nadal’s Ascent to Number One

Let’s dial the clocks back by around a year. Federer had announced that he was taking the rest of the 2016 season off to rehabilitate his knee. Soon after, Nadal followed after his second-round loss in Shanghai to Victor Troicki.

Most people had expected a continued dominance of Djokovic and Murray, more preferring Murray due to his brilliant 2016 season. However, what followed was a 180o flip, with Nadal and Federer dominating, winning all three of the grand slams played so far and four Masters 1000 titles. It’s been a rollercoaster of a year, and with Federer withdrawing from Cincinnati because of the back injury he suffered and Murray having already withdrawn from Cincinnati, Nadal is now guaranteed to become the World Number 1 on the 21st of August. Fantastic news!

Nadal has had a fantastic year. 2015 saw him struggle with confidence and his 2016 season was hampered due to injury. However, he has remained injury free this year. He’s motivated, confident and his game has seen subtle changes and improvements. His serve in Wimbledon was precise and lethal. His backhand is very solid. His volleying skills have seen improvement in placement. His forehand can be deeper, and that’s something he still needs to work on. But despite the small shortcomings, he has clinched the number one spot again for the first time in three years.

His dominance this clay season was a joy to watch and probably quite frightening for his opponents. He swept the entire clay season except for Rome where he lost to Thiem in the quarter finals. He won his 10th French Open. He reached the Australian Open final. 4 titles in 7 finals. Some great results, especially considering the drastically low expectations at the beginning of the year.

He had a comparatively good showing at Wimbledon as well. He lost in the fourth round in a gritty five-setter to Gilles Muller from Luxembourg. Muller is enjoying the best season of his life, and with him fine-tuning his already great serve and net skills, it was great to watch him win the match, though that meant Nadal once again had an early exit in Wimbledon.

This is where we bring our most important point. Nadal has been playing great; there’s no denying that. He’s in fine form. But like many of his previous season exploits, the Spaniard is losing to players most people have never heard of. He started the season with a bang, improved on it and swept the clay court season but then he started losing matches: he lost in Wimbledon to Muller and to Shapovalov in Montreal and now to Kyrgios in Cincinnati.

And while they’re not bad players by any means, these are players that Nadal would rip apart in the start of the season, when he is fresh. Which brings up another point: Should Nadal have a more relaxed calendar? Federer did that this entire season and won two grand slams.

Nadal’s game is extremely physical, and while he may have the fire and passion to want to play many events, he must realize that he’s becoming older. This is precisely why he’s never held on to the number one ranking for too long or won the tour finals. He’s gassed by the end of the year because he focuses more on the clay court season.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but he must realize that if he wants to hold onto that #1 ranking, he needs to make some tactical decisions regarding which events he plays and how much of his calendar he keeps full. Because keeping the body rested and fully ready to take the brunt of the season is something Nadal hasn’t yet figured out.

But until then, let’s enjoy some #1 Nadal madness.

Rafael Nadal - UNBELIVABLE