It's no surprise that Rafael Nadal's loss to Fabio Fognini in
is getting a lot of attention. Anytime
Nadal loses on clay it's a big deal, though it's certainly not as shocking as it
used to be. In the past it never
mattered what Nadal's form was heading into the clay season, as he'd always
return to dominance on the dirt. Now, it
appears his mediocre early season form has carried over. However, despite the further blow to Nadal's
confidence, it's unlikely the loss will have lasting implications.
Chances are Nadal will gradually improve as the clay season goes on, and will be hitting his stride along the time the French Open rolls around. Unfortunately for the rest of the field that tournament is still a month away, giving Nadal plenty of time to reach peak form. Even if he struggles all the way up to Roland Garros, it's still hard to imagine him being too far behind Djokovic as the bettor's favorite. Beating Nadal on clay in a best of five match is the hardest task in tennis, and until a current player does so it's one of those things we have to see to believe.
If the French Open were held today, Djokovic would be the pick, but even Djokovic would acknowledge how dangerous Nadal will be. Fortunately for Djokovic, it appears he will no longer have to play a perfect match to beat Nadal at the French, as his normal A game could be enough. Djokovic used to believe (as he should have) that nothing but his absolute best would suffice, which is a lot of pressure to deal with heading into the match. Now that he's closed the gap with Nadal on clay, he can approach the match with a completely different and healthier mindset. The logical signs may be pointing Djokovic's way, but don't expect the Nadal we're seeing a month from now to look anything like the Nadal we saw today.