Ranking Nadal’s level at F0: A Tale of Three L’s

Nadalgaenger

G.O.A.T.
Nadal has lost thrice at the FO:
2009 to Soderling
2015 to Nole
2021 to Nole

How do you rank Nadal’s clay level in FO heading into these matches?
 

junior74

Talk Tennis Guru
Nadal has lost thrice at the FO:
2009 to Soderling
2015 to Nole
2021 to Nole

How do you rank Nadal’s clay level in FO heading into these matches?
2015 was a foregone conclusion, Nadal was truly terrible. He lost twice to Fognini and Wawrinka heading into RG, and said in interviews he had no confidence. Novak, on the other hand, was in his life's best form.

2021 was a better Nadal than 2015, surely, and was favourite, but not by much, heading into the match. Novak played a very strong tactical match, and towards the end Nadal looked rattled and out of shape. One of my favourite Djokovic matches to watch, as he turned it around with a clear mind, taking the match into his own hands. At the same time the first match I can remember Nadal looking old and slow in the later stages of a match.

2009 Nadal went into the match as a very clear favourite, he was in top form - and got outhit by a guy playing a super match. Without Soderling's great performance, Federer would lack RG in his cabinet and we would not experience the sweet 20-20-20 poetry. Make it last :D
 

Third Serve

G.O.A.T.
2009: Nadal was in decent form heading into this match. He'd won two of the clay Masters in solid form and reached the final of the third one after winning a marathon match. His previous couple of rounds at the French Open before the Soderling match were also perfectly respectable. The Hewitt match in particular was pretty good. There's an argument to be made that the Djokovic match at Madrid basically knocked the wind out of his sails and made him more prone to an upset, which is probably true. Plus, he pulled out of Wimbledon due to injury so that might have played a part. Ultimately, though, Nadal just played an average match. It wasn't poor at all, but he did put in a lackluster match by his lofty standards.

2015: Nadal was crap pretty much the whole clay season, even to the point that Djokovic was probably the favorite over him in this match even before it started. That's quite telling. Certainly the worst he's ever been on clay since like 2004 or something. Not much to add here.

2021: Nadal had a sub-par clay season (as was typical of the previous two years) barring a few good moments in Barcelona and Rome, but unlike before, he couldn't raise his level at RG when it mattered. Not as horrible of a match as 2015 since he did have a decent set and a good set, and it probably wasn't even a bad match overall, but of course it's well below what he is (or used to be) capable of.

It probably goes like this in terms of the actual RG matches:

2009 >> 2021 > 2015

As far as the whole clay season is concerned, it's not much different:

2009 >>> 2021 > 2015
 

Kralingen

Legend
SHOCKED that some of you are putting 2021 over 2015.

do you not remember poor Rafa’s foot being amputated after going up 5-0 in the 2021 SF? At least we saw a bipedal Nadal in 2015. How Rafa even managed a 3rd set TB without use of his right leg is beyond me.
 

Mustard

Talk Tennis Guru
Nadal in 2009 had qualified for the YEC in May, such was his form. Going into his match against Soderling at the 2009 French Open, Nadal had won 139 of his previous 142 matches on clay dating back to 11 April 2005, which included an 81-match clay-court winning streak from April 2005 to May 2007. Nadal had battered Hewitt 6-1, 6-3, 6-1 before facing Soderling. 1 month earlier, Nadal had beaten Soderling 6-1, 6-0 at the Italian Open in Rome.

Of the other two, Djokovic's win over 2021 Nadal is the more impressive victory by some way, especially as the early part of the match was almost like a repeat of the 2020 final. 2015 Nadal was not in a good place, just like 2013 Federer and 2017 Djokovic.
 

Mustard

Talk Tennis Guru
2015: Nadal was crap pretty much the whole clay season, even to the point that Djokovic was probably the favorite over him in this match even before it started.
Djokovic was favourite, and bigger than before, as Djokovic was also favourite going into the 2014 final. 2013 was pretty even, but slightly to Nadal.
 

ibbi

Legend
2009 - Wins Rome and Barcelona without dropping a set, only Novak stopped him from doing the same in Monte Carlo, and then that *beep*ing match in Madrid. A match each man got to without dropping a set, it's not like either was slumping heading in.

Cannot possibly compare it to the other two, though 2021 was obviously better than 2015.

At Roland Garros itself 2015 was the only unconvincing one. When he dropped that set to Jack Sock I just remember dying inside. He wasn't bad, but there was nothing remarkable about anything he did. 2009 he looked fine as far as I can recall. 2021 was fine too, though no way he should have dropped the set to Diego in those conditions.
 
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