This opinion was first published as a comment under our Bold Tennis Predictions 2020 article. However, we think it is so well articulated and reasoning is so clear and sharp that it deserves a more prominent place. Therefore with the kind permission of the author VirgoMaestro, we publish it as part of Tennis Column, our tennis opinion column.
I really like your devotion and your passion but I modestly think you are wrong about Rafael Nadal. No we are not near the end of his era and his halftone clay season happened only because of a bad physical preparation due to a small and annoying injury in Indian Wells that came after his AO 2019 run (remember that doctors didn’t advise Nadal to play on AO 2019), Still despite all of that, he managed to be on the last square of each clay tournament and then won Roma and French Open, again.
To me personally, Nadal really plays a solid and huge level of tennis and right now he is almost impossible to beat in a 5 sets match! His game is less and less physically demanding! His serve is in big progress (he’s now one of the best servers of the game and still improving) and he plays better and better each year on hard courts and finally knows how to reduce his exchanges, his backhand is really big nowadays too and he shots way harder than in the previous years.
Where am I going with all these arguments? Well, I believe Nadal still has a large rate of progression and can add new things on his game which is not the case of Fed or Nole who both draw on their last physical resources to maintain their dominance. They have both psychological deficiencies against the young players as well, and not Nadal! That’s something you need to consider very seriously. Plus Nadal may have a more fragile body than both of them but we all know it, he can still manage to injure himself multiple times again, he will still come back at his best level, that’s what he does since 15 years now.
And I notice the fact that you didn’t count another serious option as well, we always talk about Nadal’s body issues but what if Federer or Djokovic (which is more likely to happen given his increasing defense and physical game right now) gets injured? I highly doubt he has the capacity to reach the dominance we know he can be able to produce, he’s 32 and plays like Nadal played when he was 25, That’s absolutely disastrous for his body. After Cincinnati, Novak was just out, he only showed a solid and consistent level on Paris Masters, that’s it. I really believe that Novak’s body will be an issue for him in 2020, maybe Nadal too but Nadal knows how to play when he’s diminished, not Novak. Maybe Novak won 2 slams this year (even if he got REALLY lucky on his AO’s road) but it is the tree that hides the forest. Novak has BIG physical shortcomings, he can not continue to play his best level when he multiplies long matches, it’s over. (And again, comparing to the other two, Nadal can show way more resilience when he’s tired).
Also, look at Nadal’s statistics during the hard season this year, it’s huge. He simply just won all the hard tournaments he played when he was healthy (Rogers Cup, US Open, etc), he only lost in Indian Wells because he was injured (which provoked his losses on clay before Roma). He played two AO finals in 3 years as well, it’s a big statement for me. To me he is a serious option for 2020’s edition, he is my favorite along with Novak, will depend on the draw.
But one thing is for sure: Nadal is only one grand slam away to equal Federer’s grand slam record, he will never ever let a loss at the French Open spoils his biggest chance of at least, equaling the Swiss, that is just not possible. He’s the biggest fighter in the history of this sport, I just can’t consider that he will lose at next year’s French Open, it’s too important and historic for him! and at this point I don’t even believe it will depend of Thiem’s level but on most of all on Nadal’s ability to not be frightened by the magnitude of the event
I believe Nadal still have at least one French Open inside him, I don’t see Thiem beat him at all, even when the Spaniard had a hard time during this clay season, he managed to win. Maybe Thiem can cause more problems in the future but in a 5 sets contest in French Open, no one can beat Nadal right now at the time I write this comment. I believe there is a big shade between the matches that are won in 2 sets and matches that are won in 3 (grand slams), and that’s a fact: Nadal IS to this day the hardest player you can face on a grand slam match. It’s Tsitsipas, Medvedev, Thiem, Schwartzman, Berrettini, Djokovic and even Federer who said it, not me in particular. Nadal on grand slams is probably the toughest guy you can meet because he is the ultimate competitor and as I said: 2020 will be VERY important for him (for Federer too) and tennis history in general.
My opinion is: I think 2020 will be a pretty similar year to 2019 but it will be the last year totally dominated by the big 3. My personal predictions are Nadal and Djokovic sharing the 4 slams (2 each) OR maybe a surprise at the US Open but that’s it despite way more adversity (the young guys will not have any complex anymore). And to me, Federer will not retire in 2020 but it will be his last complete season, I can see him retire peacefully in Basel 2021, at 40 years old and at home.
God bless tennis.