In spite of all his achievements, Rafael Nadal is in danger of becoming something of a forgotten man in tennis.
Nadal had previously lifted one of the grand slam trophies every season since 2004. But juggling injuries, poor form and bad luck, the Spaniard is no longer considered the force he once was. The 14-time grand slam winner has been plagued with fitness issues over the past few years, allowing Novak Djokovic to cement himself as the best player in the world and resulting in Nadal slipping to fifth in the world rankings.
After a below-par start to the year, 2015 never really got any better for the 29-year-old. Having fallen at the quarter-final stage of the Australian Open at the hands of Tomas Berdych, Nadal’s season took a huge blow at the French Open at the start of the summer, suffering a morale-denting defeat to eventual champion Djokovic. As well as making a premature exit in a tournament he has won on nine different occasions, the loss was even tougher to take for the former world number one with it coming against a player who many now believe is the undoubted king of the game.
With tickets for next year’s French Open already being snapped up from Ticketgum and othersites, it remains to be seen whether the Nadal who has been often unbeatable on clay, or the one who was outplayed by Djokovic at Roland Garros last season, arrives at the coming tournament. In a reminder of just how the landscape of tennis currently stands, Nadal’s loss toDjokovic was evidence that the power has definitely shifted at the top of the men’s game. Those who attended the 2015 French Open saw the end of an incredible winning run at the tournament, and further proof that the current world number one is by far the best player in the world.
Despite picking up one of his three tour titles of the year shortly before Wimbledon, the two-time champion suffered an embarrassing second round defeat at the All England Club, losing in four sets to Germany’s Dustin Brown. It was then perhaps fitting that Nadal’s grand slam woes continued at Flushing Meadows in September, going out of the final major of the season in the third round after a shock five set defeat to number 32 seed Fabio Fognini. In theprocess, he fell short in his bid to match Ivan Lendl and Pete Sampras’ record of reaching at least one grand slam final for 11 consecutive years.
A decent run to the semi-finals at the ATP World Tour Finals ensured Nadal ended the year with at least some positivity to cling onto heading into 2016. Having beaten Andy Murray, Stan Wawrinka and David Ferrer in the group stages, the two-time finalist was again outclassed by Novak Djokovic. So while the Serbian went on to celebrate his fifth Tour Finals success, Nadal was forced to head off into an offseason in which he knows significant improvements need to be made.
As Djokovic continues to dominate tennis, Nadal is one of a number of players who will be hoping to push the Serbian number one when the 2016 campaign gets under way. On the evidence of the past 12 months, though, there might not be that many people who feel the fading Spanish star is the man to end Djokovic’s reign next season.