Welcome to The Dirt Season
That’s right folks, it’s clay time. It’s that time of year again, the time of long rallies, longer slides and an even longer still stretch where Rafael Nadal becomes unbeatable. Unless, of course, your name is Dominic Thiem, in which case you’re permitted to beat the 11-time Roland Garros champion once a year.
As laughable as that first paragraph sounds, it does not deviate from the truth. Nadal has lost only 2 matches on clay in the last two years, each of which came against Dominic Thiem. Thiem beat Nadal in Rome in 2017, and in Madrid in 2018, with Nadal winning Barcelona, the two other Master’s 1000s, and Roland Garros in both of these years. When Nadal is healthy, the clay court season becomes extremely predictable.
It is with this sentiment that I predict another (almost) clean sweep for Nadal. He is simply unstoppable in Monte Carlo, Roland Garros and Barcelona and it would take a brave man to bet against Nadal in any of those 3 tournaments. It is in Madrid and Rome where the courts are quicker that Nadal could struggle. Alexander Zverev won Rome in 2017, and Madrid in 2018, benefitting from Thiem defeating Nadal both those tournaments. This year however, an in-form Novak Djokovic added to the mix could mean Zverev may struggle to back this up. Dominic Thiem’s maiden Master’s 1000 title in Indian Wells means he has has overcome his trophy drought at that level. And who could forget Roger Federer, who will be participating on the clay for the first time since 2016?
If I had to pick winners for Madrid and Rome, I would give Dominic Thiem the edge in Madrid, and Rafael Nadal the edge in Rome. Nadal has won Rome 8 times and goes in as defending champion. Thiem has reached the final twice in the last two years in Madrid and I believe he can go one better this time, with defending champion Alexander Zverev enduring a terrible season, which most recently saw him lose to Jaume Munar in Round 2 in Marrakech this week, and with Thiem having beaten Nadal in Madrid last year.
In summary, the start of the clay court season is always good news for Nadal fans, but will that trend continue? Let’s let Federer, Djokovic and Thiem answer that question…
Written by Emre Saridogan