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Will the 2016 French Open Renew the Rafael Nadal-Novak Djokovic Rivalry?




As the 2016 French Open looms closer, Rafael Nadal may have opened the door to his rivalry with world No. 1 Novak Djokovic. The great Spaniard has come back from the obscure depths of his No. 5 ranking with a huge turnaround in just a couple of weeks with redemptive titles in Monte Carlo and Barcelona.

While Djokovic has been sitting on the sidelines, Nadal’s ascension hasfueled speculation about a 10th French Open title. Is he more threat than irritant to Djokovic’s obsession to finally nail down his first title at Roland Garros?

“[The] King of clay is Rafa,” Roger Federer said in Rafa Roundup, courtesy of RafaelNadalFans.com. “He is the tennis player to beat. Novak’s never won in Paris. Maybe now he’s the favorite, but Nadal is Nadal. I am happy of what he showed to those who did not believe that he could win in Monte Carlo.”

Other contenders come and go, but this is Nadal, perhaps history’s greatest fighter, the southpaw antagonist who has made a career of mini-comebacks while shaking his fist at the tennis gods and their curses of injuries and aging. Is it really that surprising that the muscular clay king has returned with dervish topspin and another call at a rivalry with King Novak—the one player who has tormented him for over four years of ups and downs?

The Golden Age of modern tennis legends may not be finished with the anticlimax of Djokovic’s unfettered domination. Matches come and go, but the Nadal-Djokovic rivalry could very well pull back the curtain for one more epic clash on the red clay at Roland Garros. Despite their rivalry, Djokovic praised Nadal for his clay-court accomplishments, per We Are Tennis:

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@getty Images

Nadal’s Next Move

Give Nadal his due for winning Monte Carlo and Barcelona with impressive wins over Dominic Thiem, Stan Wawrinka, Andy Murray and Kei Nishikori. They are the top clay-court challengers to Djokovic, and Nadal has made his case for being something closer to his former self or at least resembling the level he was at in spring 2014 when he had enough for his last major title.

But the Djokovic factor hovers over him like the Colossus of Rhodes. Nadal’s best form was historically enough to get by a less consistent Djokovic, but the Serb has actually put together his incredible talents to play more like the way Nadal used to play. That is, Djokovic’s defense allows his offense to play with margin and collaborative pressure. Stan Wawrinka, via Jeff Salzenstein, shared his perspective regarding the Nadal-Djokovic rivalry using the Monte Carlo results as the focal point:

Ironically, Nadal will need to ratchet up his offensive aggressiveness early in rally exchanges, because it will be hard for him to outlast Djokovic’s high-percentage tennis, especially when the Serb is happy to tee off on Nadal’s high topspin if it’s left anything short of the baseline.

All of this assumes Nadal can keep dialing up his game, and that means he must show the durability and opportunistic coolness he flashed for two weeks in April. Will Nadal be ready to lift his game against Djokovic at Madrid or Rome? Winning one time against Djokovic could be what he needs for his ultimate belief to win the French Open. Craig O’Shannessy used Nadal’s 2016 serving stats to illustrate just how dialed in he has been thus far: 




Conversely, the Serb would love to bury the Spaniard’s belief before they touch down at Paris. The last thing Djokovic needs is a resurgent Nadal to bring his French Open mystique like an immortal Greek god coming back for battle upon the plains of Troy.

Will the rivalry resume? It only takes one Nadal win at this time of the year—and he might only get one shot. If the Spaniard crumbles in May or June, that could indeed be the rivalry’s final pages.

Could we get that last great battle in the rivalry, even a temporary renewal for one more epic showdown? We’re about to find out.

 

Via: bleacherreport.com

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