It’s been a strange year for Rafael Nadal.
He’s No. 1 on the ATP rankings even though it’s late April and he’s only played two tournaments. Roger Federer is sitting out the claycourt season. Novak Djokovic is injured — or not injured if you ask him — but he’s not winning. Stan Wawrinka is injured.
None of the ATP “Next Gen” are stepping up to challenge the old guard, and we mean old, like some pushing 40.
So Rafa seemingly has the claycourt season all to himself, but can he trudge through every week of the dirt season like a man in his 20s?
The 30-year-old withdrew mid-Australian Open with a hip injury, and returned only at the Davis Cup two weeks ago, winning then sweeping to the Monte Carlo title.
Kei Nishikori (now 0-4 in Masters finals) never had a chance, falling 6-3, 6-2 in the Monte Carlo final.
“He gives me all the balls back,” said Nishikori. “I was kind of out of gas, especially in the second set. How he plays…he makes every shot. He makes it tough. I think he was also playing great tennis.”
It was an incredible 11th Monte Carlo title for the Spaniard, and he goes for 11 again this week in Barcelona.
“These kind of things are not going to happen forever, so I just try to enjoy them and to play with the full passion and with the full energy and concentration, full love for the sport until I can,” said Nadal. “I know the day to say goodbye is closer than 10 years ago.”
Nadal has only an 11-1 win-loss record in 2018, almost four months in. But he begins his 171st week at No. 1 on the ATP rankings on Monday, breaking a tie with American John McEnroe (170 weeks). One more title and will tie McEnroe’s career 77.
He is also now the all-time Masters title leader with 31, separating himself from Djokovic who has 30. With the Monte Carlo win Nadal broke his own record for wins at a single tournament.
“Next week is another week that I have a tough draw in Barcelona,” Nadal said. “Is the moment to stay focused and to keep holding that momentum that is good one after winning seven matches in a row on clay now, this year.”
Is this a fully-healthy Nadal, or a 30-year-old Spaniard with a history of bad knees and now hips with an injury around the corner? Will a fresh injection of blood platelets get him through the claycourt season? Will he finish the year No. 1?
So many questions, who has the answers?
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