Nadal Pulls Out at the French

A post about the news today might make it look like I see this is a staggering development at the 2016 FO, an event that changes the course of the tournament.

That’s not really the case with why I’m writing this post, nor do I think it really changes the course of the tournament much at all. Djokovic proved last year at RG and even in Rome two weeks ago that he can handle the king on his clay. Djokovic has certainly had the upper hand on Nadal; these stats have been thrown around a lot lately.

We saw Nadal probably surviving his quarter (if healthy) and playing Djokovic in that top SF. But most of us assumed Djokovic would win that match. . .Unless more French Open demons were to descend upon the clay, that day, and ruin the Serb’s march towards history. Even I, the grand Nadal skeptic, wanted to see that SF given both men’s histories at this championship.

This is similar to seeing the Warriors defend their home court last night to force a game six back in Oklahoma City. The Thunder have pretty much dominated the series, but we want to see that match-up either way. We’re competition junkies. Nadal v Djokovic SF at the FO would be a nice appetizer, or entrée, depending on what transpires in the bottom half.

But we are without this SF match-up. This has more macro consequences on the sport than, perhaps, the 2016 draw – though Nadal upsetting Djokovic in that SF would have been a possibility.

I have been calling Federer’s play for the past year plus his farewell tour (if you’ve been reading, even 2015 was dubbed said tour). No, he is/was not at his peak. That’s ignorant. Likewise, Nadal has stunk-up the court for really all of 2015 and even parts of 2016. Sure, he has found his form, but we have to qualify this statement and remember we’re on clay, which really is an idiosyncratic surface, and happens to suit the greatest clay court specialist of all-time.

Meaning today’s news of Nadal pulling-out of the French is not necessarily going to be felt much in the actual tennis, but symbolically this is part of a profound sequence of events, felt more historically. We are watching a major play-out without Rafa or Roger – a terrifying glimpse of the future.

Several times in the past year, especially while Rafa was playing very poorly, I asked who is a legitimate challenge to Djokovic at this point? Granted, the Serb has re-entered the atmosphere some, but there is no one, really, who has that same championship mettle as a younger and healthier Roger or Rafa.

Revisiting the 2015 FO final was a study, as I explained, in Stan’s great form and solid strategy, but also Novak’s pattern of not seizing the moment, which has followed him some throughout his career.

We want Stan and/or Andy to develop good enough form here to create a great final (or whoever comes out of that bottom half). Chances are we should be satisfied.

But do not miss the point here, May 27 2016: Djokovic is all alone on this tour.

For Djokovic and his fans’ sake, grab this year’s La Coupe des Mousquetaires and go about the rest of your amazing 2016. You have the fortune of being young and healthy enough to bridge this most recent golden age with whatever you want to call this next era.

But make no mistake: the absence of Nadal and Federer puts a whole new (and not so rich) tint on this tennis tournament and the near future.

As critical as I am of Nadal, I am truly saddened about today’s news. As one astute fan has said, these absences “should be treated as a warning.”

Tennis players and eras have their own character, their own definitions of greatness and tragedy. It’s best to see the sport as an evolving narrative, a great story full of significant players (and coaches), championships, developments and interpretations.

The 2016 French Open, more symbolically now for sure, is Novak’s to lose. Good luck consolidating this break (in the draw), Mr. Djokovic.

One has to see, too, this move from the tennis gods as tempting the fates of this player and this championship.

7 thoughts on “Nadal Pulls Out at the French

  1. Caligula

    Good write up here Matt! With Fedal out of the picture due to age/injuries we are in one of the most one sided “eras” in men’s tennis. Novak being left virtually uncontested can only be bad for the sport, no matter how great he plays, if the guy on the other side of the court can’t produce the level of tennis to challenge him. No matter what the new age Novak worshippers tell you, he is nowhere the near the best there ever was, when the playing field around him is so uninspiring.

    The Fedal era was truly magical, and I was too saddened by the news that he had to withdraw from the tournament. Federer may have been blessed by Soderling’s surprise triumph against the king of clay in 09, but his draw was still a real challenge, facing prime Potro in the semis for a breathtakingly stunning 5-set classic (which you covered yourself recently in one of your FO entries) to facing Nadal’s slayer in the final, contrary to Djokovic’s cake walk draw for this year. If he doesn’t win it this now, then he doesn’t deserve the title, period. At least Federer reached the FO final 4 years in a row before getting finally winning it, what’s Novak’s excuse now?


    1. Well said and I agree. The only thing we have to remember is that it’s not Novak’s fault 🙂
      Sounds obvious, but we have to be fair. You can only beat whomever is in front of you.
      However, if fanboys want to go nuts with their Novak claims, they have to contend with reality, like everyone else.

      The ATP is a wasteland right now. Why haven’t more players done more with their talent?
      Kyrgios (to your point) is WASTING his opportunity to become a player on tour. Sure he’s young and many of us think (or hope) he’ll make that next step, but it’s a clown show out there (credit to you. I just don’t want to miss when he makes that step, but after watching the match today – damn, he’s pretty unstable). I did think Richard could beat him; and the Frenchman actually looks sharp. But what many of us know is that a guy like Nick has the arsenal to put up some kind of challenge to Novak. Would be interesting to see Thiem get through and have something for Novak or a Tsonga/Gulbis? Someone?

      That 2nd set TB in the Kyrgios/Gasquet was good. Nick wins that and maybe we have a better match. But he’s just an absolute mess out there.

      Stan is looking good. . .

      Time to reminisce about Fedal.

      By the way, when you see someone like me have such hard feelings about someone (Nadal), you might suspect that we have a little “reaction formation” going on. Ultimately, I respect the guy massively and may relate to him more than I want to admit, the least of which being that I am more the work ethic guy when it comes to athletic ambition.

      Thanks, Caligula.


      1. Caligula

        No problem Matt!

        I would love for Kyrgios to finally step up just as much as you, we need some competition on this tour or else may the tennis gods help us! And I agree with being able to relate to Nadal, as a sports enthusiast myself, recreational tennis player/bodybuilder/soccer fanatic while working full time as a biologist I too can appreciate the sheer insanity that was prime Nadal. His work ethics were truly out of this world, especially if the claims being made by his camp are true; that he is almost always in some kind of pain on court due to his chronic back pain caused by a congenital disease that deformed his tarsal scaphoid, the bridge of his foot at the early of age of 19. Whatever the case may be, I miss good old Nadalerthal (A nickname I gave him in his prime, because he was so basic in his approach).

        Looking forward to your next write up Matt, take care!


  2. While I mostly don’t agree with you, Matt, I also think that this tournament represents the end of an era, especially if Novak wins it.

    First, I don’t believe he will continue to dominate and win so much. And symbolically, a GS (even across two seasons) will represent another facet in the era of the big three: most slams, a GS, most weeks at no 1, etc., etc., and a third etc., since they are — Federer, Djokovic and Nadal — at the top of every single statistical category in tennis.

    With all things said and done, we had the luck to watch probably three of the greatest ever, playing at the same time.


  3. blackspy

    A very good article as usual Matt,putting things into perspective. Nadal’s withdrawal is the confirmation of the official announcement of the Fedal’s era final act (as stated initially by Federer’s absence) and everybody should realize that soon; the first sign was the 2013 Wimbledon (first GS without Fedal in second week since 2004); but for Federer’s resurgence it would have been constant downfall. I agree with Mat4 too; Djokovic’s total dominance can’t last for much longer, although he should remain N1 for the foreseeable future.

    Back to RG after the first week:
    Q1: After disposing of 2 guys composing the challenger circuit (no insult intended) Djokovic practiced against Bedene, as previewed, and will find at last a decent opponent in R4. He seemed a bit nervous but his level can’t be estimated: no real matches played. He will find Ferrer/Berdych in QFs (both not in their best) none of whom should require too much of his strength.

    Q2: Nadal’s and Tsonga’s withdrawals opened the draw according to popular media. I believe this is nonsense: taken into consideration the surface Thiem should emerge victorious here; Goffin doesn’t like slow surfaces that much and Gulbis is unstable. Contrary to common belief I don’t think that is good news for Djokovic: Thiem has the game (power, stamina) to trouble him and has nothing to loose, in contrast to Djokovic who is now the super-favorite for the title. If Thiem plays his game cool-headed and is not too tired, it should be fairly interesting…

    Q3: The seeds (Wawa, Raonic) hold firm here, after a 1st round scare from the 2015 champion. Raonic is mostly clinical (bit surprised as his game doesn’t fit in clay well) and Wawrinka seems a bit disinterested at times but he hits the ball pretty hard and seems to adjust his level to the opponent (did that a couple of times against Chardy); Stan should reach the bottom SF whose result is unclear.

    Q4: Murray played 2 long games in the initial rounds; for the 1rst he can’t be held responsible- Stepanek played very well. He should have avoided the second though. He seems to rediscover his improved serve (necessary for a deep run) and I expect him to have a quick game against Isner and Gasquet. I guess he would like to avoid Nishikori as it could easily be another grueling match.

    To sum up the week, pressure on Djokovic shoulders should be enormous. He’s world’s no 1 by far, aged 29 and the clock is ticking (he has 2-3 more chances maximum?). He can and should make it, because if he misses that one, the disappointment alone should be a huge blow to his psychology (not to mention the possibility of him losing at the hands of someone not named Wawrinka which could undermine his belief).


    1. Unless Thiem plays well (not a given at this level, against Novak) the top is utter crap. You can see the real lack of depth (or organizer agenda) when you see the draw at this point. Tsonga is always a wildcard. Ferrer and Berdych are second rate. The hope of the draw and the entire sport, it feels, rests on Thiem. I am not kidding, actually.

      The bottom is much more interesting, R16 playing out as we speak. I was hoping to post more about the Kyrgios/Gasquet match because the Frenchman’s tennis was so sharp and that TB was actually very pivotal. Nick showed signs of major brilliance, but that’s all he has. Someone needs to slap him, somehow make him realize he’s embarrassing himself (NOT the sport). He looks awful. As a parent, I would be ashamed. His mom, from what I gather, is kinda shameless herself. There you have it.

      In writing this post I wanted too to say that Richard would beat Kei. I am not a Nishikori guy (tweener tennis, a 500 level guy). Richard I think is coming through at this point, but I saw this in the Kyrgios match. Gasquet’s BH is a work of art and he was overall really tough in that match. Happy for him. Unfortunately he probably doesn’t have the goods to beat Stan or Andy. That’s what makes Gasquet usually an after-thought. But he is in form, make no mistake.

      No coincidence he’s got Bruguera in his box, 2-time B2B FO champ!

      Stan cruising – love it and Raonic out. Stan and Andy should be on the menu, boys. Should be good. Andy probably gets through in the end to play Novak.

      Let’s just hope Stanimal is rising. The sport needs all the help it can get.


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