It was Rafael Nadal’s birthday but his opponent, Novak Djokovic, was not in the mood for giving presents on Wednesday at the quarter final stage of the 2015 French Open.
Nadal had won the tournament nine times but Djokovic needed to win to complete his own career grand slam.
One could hear a pin drop on the Philippe-Chatrier Court as Djokovic became the second man ever to beat Nadal at the French Open. The silence carried with it questions in many tennis fan’s hearts. “Are we seeing the end of Nadal as a dominant force in this era of tennis; especially on clay, where he had before reigned supreme?”
Two hours earlier, fans had collectively risen to their feet as Nadal fought back from 4-0 to level the first set at 4-4, and even though Djokovic stabilized to take the set 7-5, most were expecting a five-setter and a battle but it was not to be as the nine-time French Open winner was totally dominated and won just four games to exit the tournament with a whimper.
However, as many hurried off to write his ‘obituary’, Nadal hit back with this comment, “I lost in 2009, and it was not the end. I lost in 2015, and it is not the end.”
His statement, however, will be taken with a pinch of salt even as his army of supporters know that one thing Nadal is not is a quitter. That is how he has played the game since he turned professional – never giving in and making his opponents play an extra shot from which he could seize his chance.
Still, can the 29-year-old battle back from this point?
He is expected to fall further in the ATP rankings and he could be ranked as low as 10th in the world at the end of the Paris tournament – the least rank he has been at for almost a decade and with the injuries that have seriously curtailed him.
The question arises – are we beginning to see a systemic slide out of the upper echelons of the game he and Roger Federer has straddled for almost 12 years?
His record before the loss on Wednesday was 70-1 at the French Open.
Leaving the court at 70-2, he asserted, “There is only one thing sure: I’m going to work harder even than before to come back stronger.
“I’m gonna come back next year and I’m gonna try to be competitive, to try to be better prepared than this year, and try to arrive with a little bit more confidence.
The truth is that if Nadal can get over the tendinitis in his knee and the battering that he has put his body through then maybe he still has some more French Open titles left in that rugged frame but one thing was sure after Wednesday’s loss, Nadal will start on an even keel with everyone at the 2016 French Open – that is if he is still playing.
For the rest of the Grand Slam season, which still has Wimbledon and the US Open to run, his fans will be hoping that he stays competitive
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