Nadal or Djokovic the King of Clay in Monte-Carlo?
Patrick Mouratoglou, Serena Williams’ coach, predicts the Spaniard will win his tenth title in the Principality. An exceptional longevity explained in details.
Patrick Mouratoglou knows the definition of the word ‘win’ perfectly. Since he coached Serena Williams, he has brought back 9 Grand Slam titles, out of the 18 obtained by the American. Last weekend, during the first edition of the Verrazzano Open, which he organized in his Academy in Sophia Antipolis, the coach of the tennis’ biggest player agreed to look at the player who has all the records on clay: Rafael Nadal, in search of the tenth title in Monte-Carlo this Sunday.
How do you explain the longevity of Nadal on clay?
Already, he is a multiple winner of the Grand Slam, on all surfaces, which demonstrates his qualities. Then he has the profile of a clay player. A combination that explains that he has almost been unbeatable on this surface for a decade. It is unique, but coherent for his qualities. Even if it is a little less true now, he is probably the player who has moved best on clay, with a phenomenal defense game, a terrific lift, which is usually done by a left-hander. He is the player who turns the ball the fastest, so the rebound is very hard to control. All his opponents explained that their timing and placement should be perfect, but the ball escaped them because it was very lively. It exhausts the players because he makes almost no faults. Throughout Nadal’s career, we have seen players hold 5-6 games, then collapse because they are exhausted at the physical level. These qualities, he always had, but he moves less well than before and he is faced with players who have found solutions against him.
What are the keys to facing him?
Novak (Djokovic) was the first to do so. He did it so well that he eventually tyrannized it. And several players got into the trend when they realized that it was possible. Even if they did not necessarily win the match, they saw that he was struggling. Today, many opponents think of a possible victory against Nadal, which was not the case before. This makes a big difference. And the second point is that tactical schemes creating difficulty in his game are now known.
Everything is analyzed and deciphered in tennis. How do you explain that this pattern, this flaw, took so long to be revealed?
I think it was mostly an issue of belief. Journalists have often asked French players “how to beat Nadal at Roland?”. Their answer was: “it’s impossible”. When we play with this state of mind on the court, the match has already been lost. Nadal won many matches thanks to this, but also by his extraordinary physical qualities. He had physical and mental dominance.
Mindset, precisely, has long been considered a major asset. Does he still have this dominance against the best players on the circuit?
He did, but I think he has much less today. Novak hurt him, now it’s Roger. It will be at stake for him to regain dominance, but it will also be a source of stress, Roger will not play the season on clay, but Novak will have. He isn’t the Novak of previous seasons, but he can quickly become that again.
Is Nadal your favorite for Monte Carlo?
Yes because he made a good start to the season, where he almost lost only against Roger (3 defeats at the Australian Open, Indian Wells and Miami, one at Bisbane against Raonic and one at Acapulco against Querrey). And then Novak and Andy (Murray) are far from their best level since the start of the season. It can come back very quickly, but on paper, Nadal remains the favorite, there is no doubt.
Do you imagine Nadal still performing at this level when he reaches Federer’s age (36 years old in August)?
Roger is at this level because he has been working at evolving his game for three years. He has not won a Grand Slam for years, because he was in long chains against Nadal first and then against other players like Novak and Andy. As he advanced, he had to change his strategy. He shortened the exchanges, chained serve-and-volleys as much as possible, was very aggressive on the return, hit his setbacks rather than “chip” them. In his last match against Rafa, there is an incredible stat. There were fewer than ten points over the nine exchanges. That means that his strategy works. Today, Federer reaps the fruits of these three years of work. For Rafa, it is the same problem, especially since he is more “worn out” on the physical plane than Roger. As he ages, he will have to change his game. If he succeeds, he’ll be able to hold up to 35 years old.
It seems harder to imagine for Nadal?
Indeed, because it is not natural for him. Rafa is a defender who has developed an attacking game too. Over the years, he has managed to be more and more aggressive. The challenge for him is more tactical than technical.
How do you explain that Monte-Carlo is his favorite tournament? The proximity to the sea that slows the ball?
I do not think so. I believe that he wins especially here, because this is the first major tournament on clay, that players need time to be effective on clay unlike him, as it is his surface. He picks them off, although he’s from Madrid, his opponents have found their settings and the competition gets tougher.
Who can deprive him of a tenth title?
Novak, although he played on indoor hard in the Davis Cup (last weekend), which is not ideal for his preparation. But I will still say Novak because Andy got hurt and his preparation is truncated, so I think it will only be effective from Madrid onward. And Stan (Wawrinka) does not pose many problems to Rafa, because he has a backhand with one hand and Rafa exploits it perfectly.
You do not quote anyone from the “new generation”. Is it still too early for these players?
On the clay court, I do not see Kyrgios bothering Nadal. Dimitrov can do it, but he only won one match during his last two Masters (defeated at the 2nd round at Indian Wells and the first round at Miami). So I do not think about him for this tournament, even if he’s a player who can impede anyone, anytime.
Meantime another favorite of this tournament, Novak Djokovic, who only recently restored after his elbow injury, says that he is ready for new victories: “I trust myself and the effort I put into my game. I have to believe I’ll get the results I’m hoping for”.
“It’s great to be in a place where I spend the most time when I’m not traveling. This is where I call home and where my training camp is, so I spend a lot of time on these courts,” said Djokovic about Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters. “It’s just very comfortable here. I sleep in my own bed. The family, friends and food that I like and part of my daily routine are here. It’s a very special week for me and I’ve had that feeling for many years.”
Djokovic has struggled with injury throughout 2017, most recently being forced to withdraw from the ATP World Tour Masters 1000 event in Miami with a lingering right elbow injury. But after nearly a month of rehab and training, he has declared himself fit and ready to battle.
“The elbow is fine now. I’ve been training for the past couple of weeks, playing Davis Cup and making the transition to clay that’s very demanding for the body. I was skeptical of how my elbow would react to the heavy balls on clay, but it’s been good so far,” said Djokovic. “I’ve paid a lot of attention to recovery since having to miss Miami and am now in shape to compete. My Davis Cup match (against Ramos-Vinolas) went really well. It was my best serving match in the past six or seven months, so hopefully it can keep going well here.”
Sources: www.bbc.com & www.atpworldtour.com