Rafael Nadal might be right back where he wants to be heading into the French Open, but Leif Shiras questions the Spaniard’s confidence issues despite conquering Rome again.
The dominant Spaniard came out on top in the match-up of this year’s top two clay-court players on Sunday as he battled back to beat young pretender to his mantle, Alexander Zverev, to win a record-extending eighth Rome Masters title.
Highlights of Nadal's victory against Zverev in the final of the Rome Masters
Nadal had lifted trophies in Monte Carlo and Barcelona and won a record 50 sets in a row unbeaten on clay before suffering a shock defeat in the Madrid Open quarter-finals to Dominic Thiem.
He appears to have regained his confidence entering the year’s second Grand Slam in Paris, which starts on Sunday after winning in the Italian capital, but after Sunday’s victory, Sky Sports’ tennis expert Shiras was asked why the 16-time Grand Slam champion suffers from pigs and troughs in form.
“It’s confidence and confidence can be intangible. I think that every tennis player has doubts,” said Shiras. “Even Roger Federer said ‘when you walk on to court there are no guarantees what your game is going to be on that day’. Once you hit a few balls you find out where it is and make adjustments, but I think even Nadal suffers from that still.”
Nadal gives his reaction after winning his eighth Rome Masters title
Nadal has a incredible 92 per cent success rate on clay and will head to Roland Garros as an overwhelming favourite ahead of Zverev, who has never reached the quarter-finals of a Grand Slam tournament, but he will be the second seed in Paris after winning his second Masters title on clay in Madrid, where he beat Nadal’s conqueror Thiem in the final.
Shiras said: “Zverev will take a lot of positives from losing to Rafa. You learn from losing and I know it’s an old saying, but it’s true, he’s going to take a lot away from this. He learned a lot about himself as a competitor, a lot about himself physically as well, I mean look at this run he’s been on.
“He’ll go into Roland Garros with plenty of belief and plenty of momentum.”
Another player on the rise is former world No 1 Novak Djokovic, who looked a lot more like his old self in Rome, where he competed well to defeat Kei Nishikori in the quarter-finals before losing to Nadal in their 51st career meeting.
“I don’t think that there was too much of a difference,” Djokovic said after that setback, “which is great for me, great news for me.”
Annabel Croft believes the Serb is not too far away from “challenging” Nadal on the red dirt.
“He was very proud mentally of how he fought his way through five matches in the course of the week,” she said. “I think if he gets a good draw at Roland Garros, and don’t forget he was very close to not even being seeded in Paris had he gone out in the first round in Rome. Can you imagine if he had to face Nadal in the first round of the French Open?
“But anyway, I think he can be very, very dangerous, and I believe we’ve seen the re-emergence and the putting back to together of Djokovic.”