Saturday, May 1, 2010

Post-Monte Carlo: Nadal back at his best?


For die-hard Rafael Nadal fans, Monte Carlo was a breath of fresh air; for the Nadal skeptics, it was a huge surprise. The world number three seemed to be back at his fiercest form, as he took out his compatriot, Fernando Verdasco, to win a record breaking sixth straight Monte Carlo trophy. It was the Spaniard’ s first title since Rome last year, and he claimed it in emphatic fashion. Does Nadal’s performance in Monte Carlo mean his injury woes are behind him and that he’s officially back as a top Grand Slam contender?

Some might say that Nadal never really left for him to actually make a comeback. Afterall, winning the Australian Open and reaching the US Open semis last year would hardly be considered an unsuccessful season. However, doubts over Nadal’s form are certainly justifiable since he hadn’t won a title in 11 months, prior to Monaco, and despite showing signs of his vicious self this season in Doha, Melbourne, Indian Wells and Miami, he still lost in all those tournaments and admitted his confidence was still a bit shaky, as his knee worries continue to haunt him.

Last week however, Nadal returned to where he feels most at home. He was back on clay, and unlike at Roland Garros last year, the Spaniard felt fresh, fit and hungry for success. Over the course of 5 matches, the claycourt talisman dropped only 14 games in total, including a 6-0, 6-1 victory over 12th-ranked Verdasco in the final.

“I think that the results, the scores this week, was too much. I think that's not real. But I was playing really good. I was very focused in all points. When you didn't win for a while, you are playing really well, you really want to win, you are focused more than ever, no? So maybe for that reason I won easier than usual,” admitted the six-time Grand Slam champion after his win.

Nadal insisted he never felt invincible on clay to begin with, and that he knows he can never play at his top level for the rest of his career, but for now, the Spaniard seems to be unstoppable on the dirt. So is he back to his very best? Here’s the answer to that question in Nadal’s own words:

“I back to my best level in January, 1st of January. I win a tournament now. In Abu Dhabi, 1st of January, I was playing my best level.”

It’s true that Nadal has played really well so far this season, but he was missing this title win to shatter any small doubts he had about himself. A true sign that Nadal is more careful than usual this season is that he opted to miss his home tournament, Barcelona, to rest his body for the remaining clay events. Nadal had won the last 5 titles in Barcelona, and missing it must truly hurt, however he seems to finally understand that compromises must be done in order to get back that French Open trophy.

So things are certainly looking up for Nadal at the moment. Winning Monte Carlo, choosing to miss Barcelona, and seeing him so happy on court again, are all signs that the 4-time French Open champion is back to business.

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