The sport of tennis is set for a defining season in 2020. With the top three players in the world over the past 15 years – Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer – entering the twilight of their careers, new players have emerged as genuine threats to their supremacy.
In this 8-part series, we’ll assess each player in the top eight and what they can achieve in 2020. We’ll look at how their positions are under threat and what they can do to attain their goals in the season to come. It’s never easy to look forward, but with our 2020 vision, you’ll have the benefit of hindsight when you’re talking tennis during the next 12 months.
We continue our series with an analysis of Rafael Nadal, who sit on 19 Grand Slams, just one short of his nemesis, Roger Federer. Is this the season he finally overhauls his favourite frenemy, or will the Spanish superstar’s injuries finally catch up with his indomitable spirit?
Having been Roger Federer’s rival throughout his amazing career, the legendary ‘King of Clay’ starts the season as favourite only at Roland Garros. In all three other slams, Djokovic has the bookmaker’s shortest odds to take a trophy, and with players such as Stefanos Tsitsipas, Daniil Medvedev and Dominic Thiem all proving capable of beating Nadal on a given day, the Spanish legend will not have everything his own way.
While Nadal may have injury problems of his own that could keep him from overtaking Roger Federer’s Grand Slam record, he has proven in the last 12 months what an incredible athlete and sportsman he really is, winning not just the French Open, but the U.S. Open too. By capturing the final major of the season, Nadal has given himself a shot at immortality. His legacy to the sport is one that simply cannot be questioned.
What’s in His Locker?
Nadal’s spirit and sporting endeavour have dragged him to at least a third of his major wins, but it is his power on clay which will always define him. While he beat Federer in the final to win the Wimbledon title in 2008, Federer has never beaten Nadal on the clay at Roland Garros, his solitary French Open title coming when he didn’t have to face the Spaniard.
Nadal’s competitive nature borders on the insane. No point is over until it is impossible for him to claim it. Anything less than a clean winner and he will get the ball back and is renowned as one of best, if not the best returners in the game.
Nadal’s body may be failing him sporadically, but he is still highly likely to add to his Gram Slam haul in 2020.
His Grand Slam Record
Rafael Nadal has won 19 Grand Slam titles, with 12 of those victories coming at the tournament he has set records at – Roland Garros, the French Open.
Elsewhere, Nadal has a surprisingly high four titles in the U.S. Open and two Wimbledon titles, along with just one win at the Djokovic-dominated Australian Open.
Another victory on the baking clay of Roland Garros and Nadal’s 13th title in France would put him level on Grand Slams with Roger Fedrerer, providing of course that the Swiss master doesn’t win another before that, the Australian Open his chance to change that.
Where are His Weaknesses?
Nadal’s chief weakness is his own body, but in later years, he’s definitely ramped up the OCD to a disturbing level, with sports bottles, towels and tennis racquets now needing to represent the eight planets of the solar system when they are lined up on the court (possibly).
With others gaining ground on clay, such as Dominic Thiem, Nadal won’t have it all his own way, and hard courts will get harder with every passing year. You just get the feeling that his own body might be the only thing that can truly stop his career.
While the 33-year-old will be desperate to claim two titles to outstrip his greatest rival, it could be that he needs to focus on the French for two seasons in order to land that history-making Slam victory. Nadal stands, like a bullfighter, at the brink of his own destiny.
Slams to Win: At least 1, but probably only the French Open this year. If Federer fails to win a Grand Slam and Nadal triumphs at Roland Garros, Nadal will equal the Swiss master on 20 Grand Slams.