I saw quite a lot of the Monte Carlo Masters last week and the
headline for me was that Rafael Nadal wasn't playing well but he still won the tournament.
That sounds like the worst news of all for his rivals.
I don't think he's moving as well as he usually does; in fact,
that's something he said himself last week. Andy Murray had one great set
against him but, other than that, he was pretty much untroubled.
He's never in cruise control because that's not his style, but he didn't
look troubled at any point. It looks like it is going to be an early summer
for the other players, just as it has been over the last few years.
Novak Djokovic wasn't playing, so we don't know how
much his marked improvement will transfer over to clay. He's certainly improved on the hardcourts,
and I imagine he will also have developed his game heading into Roland Garros, but Nadal
looked very comfortable.
I think he would like to play as much as possible on clay. He hasn't fully
found his feet yet and I think Barcelona
will be useful for him with the graph moving upwards towards the French Open.
As for the number one ranking, it's hard to tell how much importance Nadal
and Roger Federer give to it.
On the whole, if you win Grand Slams in the men's
game you tend to be the number one player in the world.
That's certainly the way
Roger sees it - he was winning Slams and was the number one. When Rafa started
winning the Grand Slams he became number one.
I don't think now that the number
one ranking is as important to those two as it has been. I think its something
they'd like, but is it something they actively seek?
Has Nadal gone to Barrcelona
to protect the number one ranking? I don't think so.
I think Rafa would like to be the number one player in the world
but, I think if you ask him which would you rather do, win the French Open and Wimbledon
or stay world number one, he'd pick the former.
Of course, there is the balancing act for him. He seems to be
injury-free but you never know. His schedule last year was nigh on perfect and
he went through the summer unscathed.
So you wonder by putting an extra week in
is he risking it a bit too much? He obviously feels he's a bit undercooked on
clay and wants to put that right.
It seems that this is more important to him than
the danger to his knee, which I think is probably good news.
Even though he noticeably wasn't moving as
well last week as he usually does, he puts that down to a lack of practice,
and he knows better than anyone.
It was also good to see Andy playing better on clay. He had one really
good set against Nadal when he stepped up to the baseline and dictated the play, but I don't
think he can do that in a best-of-five sets match.
From what we've seen so far on the clay, I don't think anyone apart
from Djokovic can really stop Nadal. But even then we're yet to see the Serb play him on this surface.
- Rafael Nadal