By Aidan Elder | Chief sports writer
He’s the King of Clay and the King of adjusting his underwear in the middle of a game in front of the world’s cameras. Rafa Nadal will be attempting to win his eighth French Open title over the next fortnight and only a fool would bet against him, right?
Well probably, but the risk of being labelled a fool won’t stop us. Winning seven French Open open era titles is hard, but winning eight is even harder, even if your name is Rafa Nadal. With all his injury problems, uneven bicep worries and underwear troubles, is there anything that could stop him ‘fake-biting’ the Roland Garros trophy in a couple of weeks’ time? Almost certainly not is the short answer, but if you fancy opposing him, here’s some arguments to back up your flimsy case.
#1 Injury doubts
There are many things Rafa Nadal could do to his body that would be less punishing than play tennis with it. Wrestling a hippopotamus for his dinner, dressing up as an older woman in front of Harry Styles or getting in a car with George Michael are probably all activities less detrimental to his health than his style of tennis. While Djokovic and Federer glide gracefully, Rafa powers around the court, smacking the ball as if it’s just slagged him mum.
It takes its toll and although the new world number four has looked in good shape since coming back from the injury troubles of 2012, his uncle and coach, Toni Nadal says his left knee is still giving him trouble. Considering Rafa’s relentless chasing down of everything, it’s hardly going to suddenly improve at this stage in his career and Uncle Toni suggests it’s something that they simply try to block out of his mind every time he goes out to play. Not the most encouraging assessment you’ve ever heard ahead of an attempt at Grand Slam title number 12.
Bad weather presents a couple of potential problems for Rafa, neither of which can be solved by buying a rain jacket. Firstly, if we get the rain that is expected, the balls will be heavier and the vicious array of spins that are such an important part of his arsenal could prove to be less effective than they normally are, blunting his game.
Secondly, with inclement weather forecast for much of the first week there’s a chance of a major backlog of games in the second week and as a result, reduced recovery time between matches. In an attempt to get match practice under his belt following injury, Nadal has played a lot so far this year and the fact he hasn’t been beaten much, means it may even be too much. He’s already played 38 matches this year, six more than Djokovic and 14 more than Federer.
#3 Djokovic semi-final
Rafa doesn’t really have a bad record against any of his major rivals on clay, but his record against Novak Djokovic on the surface is less pristine than his other opponents. Nole hasn’t had the greatest of clay court seasons himself with a couple of shock defeats. But he did brings Rafa’s reign in Monte Carlo to an end which means the duo are tied on three wins apiece from their last six meetings on clay. Unless Nole manages to choke before then, they’re due to meet in the semi-final and that should be a close one.
#4 Big hitters in the long grass
There’s plenty of evidence of Rafa struggling against big hitters in the past and if he’s going to make it to the latter stages of this year’s tournament, he’s likely to have to navigate his way past a few. There’s the distinct possibility of meeting Lukas Rosal, who knocked him out of last year’s Wimbledon, in the third round and beyond that, potential meetings with the big hitters, Benoit Paire and Jerzy Janowicz. Of course there’s a chance he won’t have to play any of them and he’ll make serene progress through the early stages, but this is all about clutching at straws, so we’ll take what we can.