Nadal favored at French Open, but laments outcome in Melbourne

Rafael Nadal waves to the crowd after winning the 2019 U.S. Open.
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Ricky Dimon

Tennis

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Since graduating from Davidson (The College That Stephen Curry Built), I have been writing about sports--just about any and all you can think of!--and coaching tennis in Atlanta, Ga. Beyond the four major sports, I am an avid tennis fan and cover the ATP Tour on a daily basis. If I'm not busy writing, you can generally find me on a tennis court or traveling the world wherever a sporting event takes me.

Dominic Thiem may have been playing for more than just himself in last Sunday’s Australian Open final against Novak Djokovic. And I’m not talking about his family, his coach, or the ocean (he is big fan of conservation, the environment, animals, etc.).

No, I’m talking about Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal.

“Federer and Nadal might be pissed at me because Djokovic came closer to the Grand Slam record,” Thiem joked following his 6-4, 4-6, 2-6, 6-3, 6-4 loss to the Serb.

And the Austrian probably isn’t wrong. In fact, he definitely isn’t wrong. Just ask Nadal, himself.

“Obviously, yes,” the Spaniard said when asked if he would have preferred for Thiem to have upset Djokovic in Melbourne. “I don’t have to be a hypocrite, right? It would have been better for me personally if Thiem won. But, to be honest, I slept just as well for the last two days even without that. It doesn’t matter who was the winner, Dominik or Novak; it’s part of our sport. Novak played an amazing tournament, being the best player in the world at the moment. All I can do is congratulate him on another huge success.”

Race is on

The race for the all-time record for slam titles in men’s singles–featuring Federer, Nadal, and Djokovic–was already on fire before last month’s festivities at Melbourne Park. Now it has reached a high point, as Djokovic’s recent success pulled him to within three of Federer for the first time ever. Following the 32-year-old’s triumph Down Under, here is the scoreboard: Federer 20, Nadal 19, Djokovic 17. In case you struggle at math, Federer would have led Djokovic by four and Nadal would have led him by three if Thiem had managed to prevail.

The 33-year-old also would have stayed at No. 1 if the world if Thiem had gotten the job done. Instead, Djokovic–who has won five of the last seven Grand Slams–moved up from No. 2 to No. 1 while also firmly entrenching himself in the Greatest of All Time discussion.

A look ahead

But there is some good news for Nadal.

The next major will take place at none other than his French Open stomping grounds, where he is a 12-time champion. Three consecutive titles from 2017 through 2019 have taken his lifetime record at Roland Garros to a ridiculous 93-2. Thus it does not take a genius to figure out why Nadal is currently an overwhelming favorite to triumph on the red clay of Paris this spring–even though he admits Djokovic is the best player in the world at the moment. Nadal is a -110 favorite to win the French, with Djokovic registering as a +300 second choice. They are followed by Thiem (+500), Stefanos Tsitsipas (+1800), Alexander Zverev (+2000), Federer (+2200), and Daniil Medvedev (+2400).

Clearly the news is not as good for Federer, who at 38 is five years older than Nadal and six north of Djokovic.

But he does have Wimbledon on the schedule following the French, and Wimbledon is where the Swiss still has a very realistic chance of adding to his total. Federer, who had two championship points in last year’s final at the All-England Club only to end up losing to Djokovic, has won that tournament eight times. He is a +400 second choice behind Djokovic to triumph in 2020.

The race is on. It always has been. And it will be for the foreseeable future.

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