By Aidan Elder | Chief sports writer
When you set the bar as high as Rafa Nadal has at Roland Garros, even perfection doesn’t seem enough. The defending champion hasn’t quite been flawless in his quest for his eighth French Open, but the size of his struggles may have been overstated.
If you were looking for chinks the armour, dropped sets against Daniel Brands and Martin Klizan can be used to make your case. More straightforward wins over seeds, Fabio Fognini, Kei Nishikori and the unmerciful pounding of Stanislas Wawrinka suggest he’s back on track, but with the nagging injury doubts remaining, should his not quite imperious best be a cause for concern?
The stats suggest that this year hasn’t been radically better or worse than most of his other years.
In both 2008 and 2010 he won without dropping a set, but apart from that, he generally loses a couple of sets en route to victory. In the successful campaigns that ended up with him chesily biting into the trophy in 2005, 2006 and 2011, he dropped three sets in each. In 2007 and last year, he lost just one set. Clearly he drops sets every now and then, so it’s not time to overhead smash the panic button yet.
The scale of Rafa’s dominance has been breath-taking. In the entirety of his Roland Garros career Rafa has lost 16 sets of the 187 he has contested (91% win rate). Three of those obviously came in his shock defeat to Robin Soderling in 2009, leaving just 13 others. What’s surprising is that six of those 13 were in the early rounds (1st/2nd/3rd/4th rounds) when he was supposedly playing significantly weaker opponents. You’d expect him to drop the odd few sets against Djokovic, Federer and Murray and that has happened, but it’s also not a surprise to see him make a few mistakes before getting to grips with the other members of the Fab Four.
- 46% of the sets he has dropped en route to winning have come in the early rounds (1st – 4th)
- He has never dropped a set in his eight French Open quarter-finals
- He has lost just one set in seven French Open semi-finals. A remarkable achievement considering the standard of opponent.
- He has won 61% of his successful French Open sets by 3 or more games (6-3 or better)
At the risk of blithely dismissing everyone else still left in the tournament, the semi-final against Novak Djokovic is the French Open decider. Ferrer and Tsonga are capable players, but barring an injury or huge shock, they won’t be fancied to beat the winner in the final. If there is one player with a respectable record against Rafa on clay, it’s Nole. Over the course of their last six matches on clay, it’s honours even at three wins apiece, with the Serbian’s surprise win in Monte Carlo a few weeks back being the last time they’ve met.