French Open: Nadal running out of time to claim La Decima


After Rafael Nadal's first-round exit at January's Australian Open, many were left wondering if the Spanish great, now 29, is capable of another grand slam win.

Although it was just his second exit in the first round of a grand slam since Wimbledon in 2013, Nadal left Melbourne with his head bowed and serious doubts about his ability to compete with the best on the big stage.

Those doubts have not been dispelled completely, but as the French Open rolls around, the "King of Clay" has launched himself into contention once again as the Madridista chases his own version of La Decima - a 10th Roland Garros crown. 

Doing so would see him enter the record books - no player has won the same grand slam 10 times.

Nadal is a threat at any tournament on his preferred surface, but his form heading into the 2016 French Open makes him hard to ignore.

Two titles on clay in the space of a week in April - first at the Monte Carlo Open and then in Barcelona - suggested Nadal is nearing a return to his best on the surface he has dominated for over a decade.

A semi-final appearance in Madrid and a quarter-final in Rome have since provided further indication of Nadal's resurgence after a subdued 2015.

But the ultimate test is to come in Paris, where world number one Novak Djokovic - who beat Nadal in the last eight of the Internazionali d'Italia this month as well as at the same stage of last year's French Open - is unlikely to roll over, should they meet again.

Likewise, Stan Wawrinka - defending champion and world number four - cannot be discounted, while world number two Andy Murray is 1-1 against Nadal on clay this season.

Back up to fifth in the world rankings heading into the second grand slam of the year, Nadal's record against the men around him suggests if can go all the way, if his body and mind allow him to.

He beat world number six Kei Nishikori in the final in Barcelona, and defeated Murray and Wawrinka in Monte Carlo, while Roger Federer's withdrawal due to persistent injury enhances Nadal's hopes further.

Wawrinka only has the one win against Nadal on clay in seven attempts, while Murray only has two from nine - although both of those triumphs for the Brit have come in the last 13 months.

Djokovic, unsurprisingly, has begun consistently beating Nadal on clay during his recent period of dominance.

Nadal has 14 wins from their 21 clay encounters, but the last of those came in the 2014 French Open final. That was also the Spaniard's most recent victory against the imperious Serbian, who has won their subsequent seven encounters.

The most recent encounter was a tight one, Djokovic winning 7-5 7-6 (7-4) on clay in Rome; quite a contrast from the 7-5 6-3 6-1 defeat Nadal suffered from the world number one at Roland Garros last year.

Those struggles against Djokovic, coupled with the inconsistency which has only become a feature of Nadal's game late in his glittering career, mean he is far from a certainty to claim a 10th French Open crown.

But form and recent outings against the world's best suggest - with the spectre of injury never far away in recent years - it might be now or never for Nadal in his chase to make history.