Rafael Nadal’s perfect season is no longer so.
The 20-0 winning run came to an end in the Indian Wells final against Taylor Fritz on Sunday, and two days later Nadal confirmed that the breathing difficulties he experienced in the match were due to a cracked rib.
The injury is expected to prevent him from practising for four weeks and will have serious implications on the clay season.
WHAT CLAY EVENTS WILL NADAL MISS?
Nadal will now miss the Monte Carlo Masters, which is the curtain-raiser for the clay season on April 10 and could feature returning trio Novak Djokovic, Dominic Thiem and Stan Wawrinka. Djokovic will be allowed to play despite being unvaccinated after France changed its vaccine rules, while Thiem and Wawrinka, who have both enjoyed some of their best career moments on clay, are coming back from long injury lay-offs. Wawrinka’s first tournament in a year will be in Marbella from March 27.
Nadal is not only out of Monte Carlo, but he will also not play the Barcelona Open, which starts on April 18.
If the diagnosis of four to six weeks remains correct, then the ATP 1000 Madrid Open on May 1 could be when Nadal returns. The tournament is followed immediately by the Italian Open on May 8 before ATP 250 events in Geneva and Lyon (May 15) and then the French Open on May 22.
Nadal is a 13-time champion in Paris and another victory would see him move two clear of Djokovic and Roger Federer in the all-time Grand Slam standings with 22. Djokovic is the defending champion after beating Nadal in the semi-finals last year.
2022 ATP Tour clay calendar
- Monte-Carlo Masters (April 10)
- Barcelona Open/Serbia Open (April 18)
- BMW Open/Estoril Open (April 25)
- Madrid Open (May 1)
- Italian Open (May 8)
- Geneva Open/Lyon Open (May 15)
- Roland Garros (May 22)
CAN NADAL GET TO NO.1 IN THE CLAY SEASON?
Nadal’s injury also has implications for the world No.1 ranking.
After his stellar start to the season, Nadal is up to No.3 in the world and has closed the gap on world No.1 Djokovic to 1,350 points. Both Djokovic and Nadal would have had the chance to gain points in Monte Carlo – Djokovic is only defending 90 points from his quarter-final appearance in 2019 and Nadal will now drop 180 points from his semi-final run in 2019.
Nadal is also set to drop 500 points from the Barcelona Open, where he is defending champion, but can improve at the Madrid Open, where he holds semi-final points from 2019, and the French Open, where he holds 1,000 points from winning in 2020 (due to changes to the ranking system after the Covid-19 pandemic some tournaments have been included for an additional 52 weeks at 50 per cent. The winner of the a Grand Slam gets 2,000 ranking points).
There is still some uncertainty over where Djokovic will play during the clay season. The Monte-Carlo Masters and Serbia Open (April 18) look set, but it is not confirmed if he will be able to compete in Madrid or Rome if he is unvaccinated. Djokovic has points on his ranking from winning Madrid in 2019 and making the final in Rome last year.
It seems unlikely now that Nadal will be able to catch Djokovic at the top of the rankings before the French Open. However, that does set up the prospect that the world No.1 ranking could be on the line in Paris, with Nadal also looking to reclaim the title from Djokovic.
Daniil Medvedev may also have a say in matters, although his clay form will need to improve. The world No.2 has a 15-21 record on clay during his career and has openly admitted his unhappiness on the surface in the past. Last year he won just one match on clay in Madrid and Rome before a somewhat surprising run to the quarter-finals of the French Open. With just 780 points to defend on clay it’s clearly an untapped market for Medvedev in terms of his ranking. Nadal has 2,860 points to defend on the surface and Djokovic has over 3,000.
Nadal’s clay ranking points and when they drop
- Monte-Carlo Masters (180pts – April 18)
- Barcelona Open (500pts – April 25)
- Madrid Open (180pts – May 9)
- Italian Open (1000pts – May 16)
- Roland Garros (1000pts – June 13)
WILL LACK OF PREPARATION HURT NADAL AT FRENCH OPEN?
In terms of his French Open chances, not playing the entire clay season may not be detrimental to Nadal.
Given his injury issues over the last few years, there are questions over whether he risked too much by playing four hard-court tournaments after his comeback at the start of 2022. He will likely not have the same issue on clay as two tournaments in the build-up to the French Open now seems the maximum he will play.
But the clay season has been Nadal’s staple over the last decade. While he has cut down on some hard-court events to preserve his body, he has continued to play at least three or four clay events most years. The only season when he did not have much clay preparation was in 2020, and that was enforced due to the Covid-19 pandemic, which meant the Italian Open was the only clay event played ahead of the re-arranged French Open.
Andy Murray, who is skipping the clay season to train with new coach Ivan Lendl and prepare for the grass season, said at Indian Wells that he thinks Djokovic’s lack of match practice puts him as second favourite for the French Open.
“As it stands today I would have to put Rafa as being the favourite to potentially win the French Open again.
“Novak’s obviously had very little competitive tennis for a period, and Rafa’s obviously started the year extremely well and, yeah, he’s maybe in a position that I think he even said was not expecting himself to be in, even a few months ago.
“So he probably feels like quite relaxed and maybe a little bit less pressure than was on him a couple of, you know, the last couple of French Opens, for example.
“I wouldn’t count Novak out, for sure, but it’s not going to be easy because he’s obviously missed quite a lot of tennis.”
Djokovic could be the major beneficiary of Nadal’s absence on clay as the pair have often competed for titles on the surface over the last few years.
Stefanos Tsitsipas and Alexander Zverev will also be hoping to find their best form on clay after both winning Masters events last season.