The start of 2021 was more troubled than expected for Rafael Nadal, affected by a back problem that prevented him from giving his best in the first rounds of the season. After missing the entire ATP Cup, the Spanish phenomenon was unable to make it beyond the quarter-finals at the Australian Open, a tournament he took home only once back in 2009.
The former world number 1 has also immediately the third comeback in his career from two to zero, giving way to Stefanos Tsitsipas for the semifinals. The 20-time Grand Slam champion seemed very tired in the last part of the match, so much so that he allowed the 22-year-old Greek to overturn his inertia and hit one of the most unexpected successes of his entire young career.
In an interview with the Daily Mail, former German champion Boris Becker suggested that the defeat at Melbourne Park could remain in the mind of the 34-year-old Majorcan for a long time. At Roland Garros in a few months, Nadal will have the gluttonous chance to break Roger Federer in the Grand Slam standings for the first time.
Becker on Rafael Nadal
"Rafael Nadal's five-set defeat by Stefanos Tsitsipas will sting for some time, and could even be a factor at the French Open," Boris Becker wrote for the Daily Mail. Six-time Grand Slam champion Becker believes the games are finally catching up on Nadal, who has put his body under immense strain throughout his illustrious career.
"There was definitely some vulnerability in Nadal if we think forward to Paris," Becker added, again raising doubts ahead of May's French Open. "For the first time I can recall Rafael Nadal looked really tired in that fifth set, he was beaten physically, and the others will have seen that.
The Spaniard’s style is so physical that it is going to take a toll. I am actually surprised that he has played to this incredibly high level for so long. While it would be foolish to bet against him for Paris when he gets that little step slower he will not be the same player."
The verdict could provide an opening for Djokovic, who intends to close the gap on Roger Federer and Nadal at the French Open, where he is plotting his revenge on the latter after last year's final defeat. The Serbian's coach Goran Ivanisevic believes Nadal may only win one more title and is backing his man to prevail in the Grand Slam race.
“Rafa, for sure, is going to win one [more Grand Slam], I hope not two, but I give him one," Ivanisevic said.