June 16, 2019
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Nadal on the hunt for his 12th French Open title

 Rafael Nadal of Spain in action against Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece during their men's singles semi final match at the Italian Open tennis tournament in Rome, Italy, May 18, 2019. EPA-EFE FILE/RICCARDO ANTIMIANI

Rafael Nadal of Spain in action against Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece during their men's singles semi final match at the Italian Open tennis tournament in Rome, Italy, May 18, 2019. EPA-EFE FILE/RICCARDO ANTIMIANI

By Luis Miguel Pascual

Paris, May 25 (efe-epa).- No triumph at the French Open is routine anymore as every success Spanish star Rafael Nadal accomplishes involves a surprise, a new record or a new chapter to be written in history books.

In 2019, the so-called king of clay is on the hunt for his 12th French Open and crown himself the player with the wins in a single Grand Slam, breaking a tie with Australia’s Margaret Court, who won the Australian Open 11 times between 1960 and 1973.

Such an achievement has to be seen within the context of his strong competition.

In his bid for Gallic flory, Nadal faces the possibility of coming face to face with an ever-green 37-year-old Roger Federer, who is returning to Paris after three years of absence with the aim of increasing his record tally of Grand Slams to 21.

Not to mention Serbia’s Novak Djokovic, world No. 1, who seems to have overcome the ups and downs he struggled with last year and now will seek out his fourth Grand Slam title back-to-back.

A new generation of tennis players, led by Dominic Thiem of Austria, is also a danger Nadal cannot afford to overlook. Thiem came runner-up to Nadal in the 2018 French Open.

But Nadal knows how to dominate the French Open. The clay court, the best of five sets, the speed of the tournament and the dimensions of the court have been his allies over the years.

Nadal’s domination has been so firm that only three French Open titles have slipped through his fingers since winning his maiden trophy in 2005.

Federer managed to win the French Open in 2009 when the Spaniard conceded his first defeat by Robin Soderling of Sweden, Djokovic got to win it once in 2016, when Nadal had to withdraw due to a wrist issue and Switzerland’s Stan Wawrinka hoisted the trophy in 2015, when Nadal was handed his second defeat.

He has been defeated in the French Open just twice since his first title and his career seems to be programmed to reach the peak just in time for Roland Garros.

And this year has been no different, as the Spaniard has been handed three defeats during the clay swing, while he arrived in Paris with only one loss in each of the previous two clay court seasons.

He lost to Fabio Fognini of Italy in Monte Carlo semifinal, Thiem in the Barcelona Open semifinal and Stephanos Tsitsipas of Greece in the Madrid Open last 4.

Nadal, however, manages to dispel any doubt about his form with his successful run at the Italian Open, which saw him prevail over Djokovic in the final.

Despite the Italian Open defeat to Nadal, the Serb remains one of the serious contenders in Paris, especially when taking into consideration Rome was his second clay-court final in a row having won the Madrid Open a week before the Italian Open got underway.

Djokovic, who has the top spot of the ATP rankings secured regardless the outcome of the French Open, has a challenge ahead of him; to win the four Grand Slams back to back, which would reaffirm him as officially over the blip he went through after claiming the French Open title in 2016.

The Serb dreams of his second Roland Garros title at the expense of an in-form Nadal, to move a step closer to leapfrogging the Spaniard as the second most successful player in the Grand Slam, behind Federer.

Federer, meanwhile, decided not to skip the clay court season and to take part in the French Open after three years of absence with the hope of claiming his second trophy in Paris, which would bring his overall tally to a record-extending 21 titles, 20 years after his French Open debut.

He will play Nadal in the semifinal, should they both make it that far, while at the same stage Djokovic could face off against Thiem, who is spearheading the new generation of players edging closer to a Grand Slam.

The old guards do not look to keen on handing over power just yet, though. EFE

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