Slipping Titan: Is Rafael Nadal's reign nearing its end?

Sunday, 12 May 2024 at 20:56
The end is nigh for Rafael Nadal after a pretty poor end to his Rome Open career (despite him leaving it open ended) where he was well beaten by Hubert Hurkacz 6-1, 6-3 and it now has to be considered what his future path is.
After a glowing few weeks which saw Nadal only lose to Alex de Minaur and Jiri Lehecka in his two prior tournaments in Barcelona and Madrid, he got some good solid matches in and was looking to seemingly up the tempo in Rome. But after taking down Zizou Bergs, it fell flat against Hurkacz. The point being that Nadal will keep running into these top names with certain players lurking even further down the top 32 that could do him damage at Roland Garros.

Hurkacz and De Minaur show no fear keys to downing the legend

Always a caveat with Nadal's return was potentially tarnishing his legacy and he will have to make a decision accordingly going into Roland Garros based off the probability that his career at least in a Grand Slam in Paris (Olympic Games aside) could end to a lesser known player in pretty embarrassing fashion.
Hurkacz in reality and even De Minaur before him in Barcelona showed the keys to beat Nadal with his main wins coming against players who have been overawed at times with the situation. Pedro Cachin for instance and even Darwin Blanch back in Madrid. Players who don't care about reputation won't care about stepping into Nadal's wheelhouse of Roland Garros and ending his career at the top level.
Add to that the caveat of Nadal not getting any protection at Roland Garros. A lot was pedalled around Nadal's fairytale final year featuring a seeding as a farewell which can be done. But FFT as they show with their wildcards don't particularly care about storylines to dictate how they do things.
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Could even face Djokovic or Alcaraz early which could be a one-sided beatdown.
While a farewell is very much on the cards if Nadal wants it, he will have to do it the hard way which is where issues come in. He could even face Djokovic or Alcaraz in the second round given that he is unseeded and perhaps even worse given their clay court prowess, a Stefanos Tsitsipas, Casper Ruud or even looking down someone like Sebastian Baez, Tomas Martin Etcheverry could be lauded as a good draw but could prove to be a nightmare.
Andy Murray has proved it in recent years with nightmare draws including against Stefanos Tsitsipas and Grigor Dimitrov at both Wimbledon and the US Open that there is no real room for sentiment and easy draws especially in Grand Slam tournaments.
The younger generation similar to Dino Prizmic and Luca Nardi against Novak Djokovic will want the scalp of Nadal and those like Hurkacz and De Minaur will laud the Spaniard but flick the switch on court. The aura lit up for a few more weeks, but seems to have dissipated despite the fact that he lost to a top 10 player not a random no-name. But while he even considers his Roland Garros participation, the end should be nigh for Nadal in the coming weeks instead of giving any hope of playing another season. As fans will want to see him win, not lose to smaller named players and have a ceiling to a once unbeatable game.

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