Simon Reed

French Open is Nadal’s only shot at Grand Slam glory

Simon Reed

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It is wonderful to see Rafael Nadal back competing and slowly returning to full fitness after all his knee problems, and his recovery has been perfectly timed with his favourite Grand Slam coming up.

Despite all the excitement about the Spaniard's return, I do believe that he will now not be able to win any Slams other than the French Open, and he must throw everything at the clay-court season.

He may have a slight chance at Wimbledon, but I cannot see him winning in Melbourne or New York going forward, and he will be all too aware of his limitations on hard surfaces given his fitness issues.

Given his record at Roland Garros, it would be absolute madness to not have Nadal as the favourite. He may not be back to his best by the start of the French Open, but he still has everything required to triumph again.

Provided his fitness levels remain relatively high, he has every chance of winning in Paris, and the Spaniard is very unlikely to struggle on his favourite surface.

The Monte Carlo Masters will tell us a great deal about Nadal’s prospects for Roland Garros, where he will be going for his ninth successive crown – a quite astonishing record.

If he wins even one of the tournaments in Monte Carlo, Madrid and Rome, then he will be considered to be the red hot favourite going into the French Open.

I believe that he will withdraw from the other build-up tournaments if he wins one of the three, and he really does have little to prove given how much better he is than everyone else on the surface.

Nadal still has that aura on the circuit, despite his injury troubles, but there will be some players who are slightly less intimidated by him than they once were.

That having been said, if he wins in Monte Carlo or Rome without losing a set, that intimidation factor will very much be present again.

Only Nadal knows how his knee feels, and he has been pretty honest about the pain that he is still having to fight through at the moment.

He made a very wise decision in skipping the hard court season, as it was playing on those surfaces that helped cause the injury in the first place.

Whether he can ever get back to the level of fitness he had before is very difficult to predict at this stage. There is no doubt that he is a work in progress in terms of his recovery.

One very interesting thought is whether Nadal will have to change his approach or tactics at the French Open, given his relative lack of fitness in five-set battles.

However, I think that he cannot play in a more gung-ho fashion, because his physicality is the biggest factor for him winning big matches, and he would be taking a very big risk if he were to play more aggressively.

It would very much play into the hands of Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer and Andy Murray if Nadal were to start playing differently and taking additional risks to prevent long matches.

He just has to trust in his knee and the fitness that he has worked so hard to get back after his rehabilitation. If he can just play like normal, then he has every chance of being the same player as he was before.

Djokovic, Federer and Murray will all believe that they can win at Roland Garros, while Juan Martin Del Potro and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga will also be confident with Nadal’s problems giving them real motivation.

There will be more belief from the other players in this clay court season, but Nadal could well find the intensity and fitness required to rediscover his dominance on the surface.

One thing is for sure: the French Open needs a fit and firing Nadal more than any other Grand Slam needs an individual player.

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