Based on Rafael Nadal's form over the last couple of years, most of the phrases used to describe him went something like "past his prime", "his best days are behind him" or "he'll never win a major tournament again." But after his
Monte Carlo title, it looks like
Nadal will once again be a serious threat at Roland Garros. Sure he didn't beat Djokovic along the way,
but his wins over Thiem, Wawrinka, Murray and Monfils were extremely impressive.
Djokovic is still likely to go into the French Open as the heavy favorite (though another early loss in the
Madrid or Rome Masters may raise further
questions). But Nadal's game has always
gone up and down depending on his confidence level, and a strong clay court
season leading up to the French would have Nadal feeling better than he has in
two years. He may not be able to beat
Djokovic head to head, but could certainly be the guy to capitalize if Djokovic
somehow slips up along the way.
Perhaps more important than the fact Nadal won the tournament was the improved quality of his play. Nadal's shots seemed to be jumping off the court more than they have in the last couple of years. His depth of shot was also improved, as Nadal left fewer shots short in the court where opponents could take the offensive. If Nadal can continue to keep his high bouncing shots deep in the court, it's hard not to see him having a very successful clay court season.
Tennis fans and analysts have a tendency to write off stars a bit too early, such as when a late-twenties Federer was considered almost done following a couple of losses to Guillermo Canas at Indian Wells and Miami. No one expects Nadal to be as excellent in his thirties as Federer has been, but he may not go out as quietly as some thought he might. For now, a confident Nadal on clay is a dangerous proposition for the rest of the tour, and the remainder of the clay-court season suddenly has a very different feel.