Win a tournament 11 times, and it’s pretty safe to say that particular venue can be considered a comfort zone. Rafael Nadal has been able to make that statement ring true at three events: Monte Carlo, Barcelona and the French Open.
This season, the first two have offered little refuge for the world No. 2 this year as he fell in the semifinals of both events to Fabio Fognini and Dominic Thiem, respectively.
Aside from failing to defend his titles at both tournaments, a personal streak has come to an end: For the first time since 2004—when he won his first title—Nadal has gone from the beginning of the year through April without at least one trophy.
After being forced to shut down his season earlier than expected last year due to injury, Nadal got off to a stronger-than-expected start in 2019 by reaching the Australian Open final.
He made his return to the court a month later in Acapulco, when Nick Kyrgios beat him in three sets in the second round. He bounced back from that to make a semifinal run at the first Masters event of the year in Indian Wells. However, before his semifinal match against Roger Federer, he was forced to withdraw due to a knee issue that also led to him pulling out of the Miami Open.
Nadal returned to the court at Monte Carlo, where he’s been particularly dominant. Fognini stopped him, becoming one of only a handful of players to beat him three or more times on clay. Thiem went one better than the Italian the next week, joining Novak Djokovic as the only players to top Nadal four or more times on the dirt.
In what has arguably been one of the best careers of all time, Nadal’s first title of the year has come in Monte Carlo seven times, which includes two three-year stretches: 2010-’12 and 2016-’18. Even in 2015, in what was considered an off year by his standards, Nadal got his title winning on track early with a triumph at the Argentina Open, part of the “Golden Swing” through Latin America, in March. The following year, when he struggled with form and health, he only took home two titles: in Monte Carlo and Barcelona.
Those friendly confines weren’t so kind this year. The Spaniard will take the court next week in Madrid, where he’s a four-time champion, most recently in 2014. The clear favorite at any clay-court tournament he enters, Nadal will be looking to get back to his winning ways, pushing forward with the first four months of the season behind him..
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