The clay court season did not start in the best way for Rafael Nadal, who has always been used to making a big voice this part of the year. After solving his back problems, the Spanish phenomenon showed up in great shape in Monte Carlo, where he went through the first two rounds without even breaking a sweat.
To general astonishment, the 34-year-old from Manacor paid dearly for a horrible day in the quarterfinals, which cost him elimination in front of a wild Andrey Rublev. The 20-time Grand Slam champion redeemed himself in Barcelona the following week, but to take the title he had to cancel a match point to Stefanos Tsitsipas in the final act.
In front of a friendly Madrid crowd, another misstep came, as the Iberian surrendered in two sets to future tournament winner Alexander Zverev in the quarterfinals. Speaking with journalists at the BNL Internationals of Italy, the number 13 ATP David Goffin expressed some interesting considerations on the state of form of the Majorcan.
David Goffin opens up on Rafael Nadal
David Goffin said that the tennis world is so used to seeing the Spaniard win virtually every title on clay for over a decade that two rare defeats have now got everyone debating whether he is still the ‘King of Clay’.
“It is certain that when you’re used to seeing Rafael Nadal win everything…there, one year in 15, he arrives here (Rome) with two defeats and we wonder if he is still the strongest,” the 30-year-old said.
“He played a very good Zverev and even if he wants to win everything, his main goal remains Roland-Garros,” the Belgian said, adding that he was hopeful that the defending Rome champion will have a strong run this year as well.
“There is Thiem, Djokovic, Zverev, even Berrettini. Tsitsipas, Rublev…lots of very good players. Madrid…is the tournament he likes the least. We can still count on him. We’ve already buried him so many times,” Goffin said.
During his pre-tournament presser in Rome on Tuesday, Alexander Zverev suggested that Rafael Nadal will be successful in doing exactly that. Zverev claimed Nadal will always be in with a chance of winning the French Open, and that he can't be considered beaten until he is actually out.
"He's (Rafael Nadal) still the favorite, that hasn't changed," Zverev said. "You have to beat him. The chance for him is relatively great. Our job is to prevent that from happening."