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Spain's Rafael Nadal. Picture: LOREN ELLIOTT/REUTERS
Spain's Rafael Nadal. Picture: LOREN ELLIOTT/REUTERS

Rafa Nadal’s absence from Indian Wells led to the 22-time Grand Slam champion slipping out of the top 10 for the first time since 2005 on Monday, but the Spaniard will still be the “man to beat” at the French Open if he can get back to full fitness.

Nadal was forced to skip the Masters 1000 event in California, where he reached the final in 2022, as he continues his recovery from a hip issue that ended his Australian Open title defence in the second round in January.

Unable to defend the 600 points from Indian Wells resulted in Nadal dropping four places to 13th in the rankings, ending his record 912-week stay inside the top 10, which began when current No 1 Carlos Alcaraz was not even two years old.

However, with Nadal preparing to return to action at the Monte Carlo Masters in April ahead of the French Open, which he has won 14 times,  his time outside the top 10 might be short.

World No 4 Casper Ruud, who lost to Nadal in the Roland Garros final last year, said he would not be shocked to see the 36-year-old lift the trophy once again. “It wouldn’t surprise me because he’ll probably use these weeks and these months, as he’s preparing for exactly Roland Garros,” Ruud told Eurosport.

“It doesn’t matter if he loses in Monte Carlo or Rome or Madrid. The only thing that’s probably on his mind these days is just to be fit, be healthy and be ready for Roland Garros.”

Tennis lost two of its greats when Serena Williams and Roger Federer bowed out of the sport last year, but Nadal and rival Novak Djokovic are soldiering on. Djokovic, who turns 36 in May, has shown few signs of slowing down and drew level with Nadal on 22 Grand Slams by winning the Australian Open.

“For the whole tennis world it would be nice to see one last showdown at Roland Garros,” former US Open champion Dominic Thiem said, adding that Djokovic would be the favourite to win the remaining Grand Slams this year.

“The only tournament is Roland Garros: if Rafa is fit there, it’s exactly the opposite. He’s the man to beat when he won the tournament 14 times, it’s crazy.” 

Daniil Medvedev suffered double disappointment on Sunday after losing to Alcaraz in the Indian Wells final and seeing his 19-match winning run snapped, but the Russian said the only thing to do now is to embark on another streak.

Medvedev came into Sunday’s final having won titles in Rotterdam, Doha and Dubai but was thrashed 6-3 6-2 by Spaniard Alcaraz, leaving him one victory short of matching his 20-match winning run that ended in early 2021.

“Damn, one away from my record. That’s actually disappointing,” Medvedev said. “This would be cool to try to beat it and maybe try to prolong it as long as possible. It’s great to have these streaks.

“Really disappointed it ended, but a lot of confidence from this streak. Last year, that’s what I was missing. I was doing sometimes finals, semis in Cincinnati, playing good but not playing well enough in the semis.

“I managed to win 19 matches in a row. I’m proud of it, and now it’s time to try to build a new streak. There’s no other way in tennis.”

Medvedev said he was looking forward to the clay court season that follows this week’s Miami Open, despite not being a big fan of the surface.

“Sliding is something that’s not easy for me on clay courts,” Medvedev said. “But I made some good results in the past on clay courts in big tournaments. I’m feeling great right now at this part of the season, mentally and physically.

“So I’m looking forward to the clay season but first I want to try to do well in Miami, where it’s still hard courts even if maybe it’ll be very slow.”

Reuters

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