Rafael Nadal and Americans Top Headlines Heading onto Clay
Rafael Nadal and Americans Top Headlines Heading onto ClayFriday April 13th, 2012
Often headlines are about question marks, and thats perhaps so with sporting ones. For this one, however, it is worrying to find Rafael Nadal's name in this company, and that of 'Americans', maybe not quite. Yet they are there for different reasons, deserving the question mark at the same time.
What has transpired on the courts of the ATP in the last four months has been, as it usually it nowadays, majestic. As it happens in tennis, matches make moments, and Novak Djokovic certainly dropped a statement when he won the Miami Masters to quell any suggestion of Roger Federer's resurgence, or indeed of any imminent threat Andy Murray might pose to his reign any time soon.
Rafael Nadal, however, warranted the notable presence of absence, because he simply didn't quite face up to the challenge at Miami that many thought he might. Mind you, he didn't actually lose, he was forced to withdraw due to a recurring knee pain, a problem which has plagued his game for some years now. In not facing Novak Djokovic in the final, however, as he was seeded to do, he raised eyebrows: Is the Spaniard not even game enough or body enough to even consider the possibility of beating Andy Murray and then Novak Djokovic on a tennis court?
Miami has left our world number two with something to prove, although it isn't as if he has had to. He played out his gut at the Australian Open, and barring his knee pain would have done so at Miami. He gets a great chance next week with Monte Carlo starting up the clay season, as it traditionally does.
While Nadal is the seven time defending champ there many delicious ripples are to be found from a brewing tennis tsunami this 2012 year. With Djokovic playing for his career grand slam in a few weeks time, and Nadal near invincible here, an epic clash between the two here (which Nadal narrowly won the last time it happened) in the final might set the tone for a historic and epic clay and grass season the likes of which we haven't even so much as scented since 2008.
Then, there are the Americans. Traditionally clay has been the location for the weakest showing in American tennis, but recent form from both the ATP and WTA reveal positive signals, which one hopes don't die down as quickly as they came up. There is the mighty Davis Cup hero and US vanguardsman John Isner, who led team USA to victory over France last weekend, and has posted wins over Federer (on clay) and a final showing at Indian Wells in recent times. He was the only man to push Rafael Nadal to five sets at the French Open last year, and with his big, very American, outspoken brand of tennis is the best hope, in practice and on paper, on the men's side.
We dont forget Andy Roddick, of course, who in a remarkable career twilight moment defeated old rival Federer at Miami, and who had a resurgence of his own on clay some three years ago. One oughtn't count out something happening from the surprising veteran.
As for the women it is the turn, yet again, of Serena Williams to take the helm for American hopes. Yet again coming back from almost nothing she has won Charleston last week, and in a typically dominant fashion that can now only be described as idiosyncratic. Serena proved to us, for the countless nth time, her simple innate dominance and superiority over almost any other women's tennis player. She exudes it, and while her record on clay in recent years (until last week happened) hasn't been terrific, she is that enigmatic ubiquity of American hopes.
One might add the world number 2 Maria Sharapova into the picture, who speaks pretty much like an American anyway, and was certainly bred like one. She has featured in three finals in 2012, and while losing all three Sharapova poses a big game, and bigger possibilities. This year she join Novak Djokovic in the quest for the career grand slam at the French Open.
So there we have Rafael Nadal and a host of top American players vying for attention, for good reasons and bad, on the eve of the 2012 clay season. Is the king of clay in doubt on his favourite surface, and are Americans real threats on their slow kryptonite at last? Its remarkable how tennis conversations sometimes turn out.
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