As he prepares for the 2015 French Open, Rafael Nadal has been looking to get back on track after failing to win a tournament in nine months. The No.3 player in the world finally ended his title drought on Sunday, defeating Juan Monaco at the Argentina Open, and in the process perhaps gained some confidence before his favored grand slam.
It had been a long cold spell for Nadal. He had failed to reach a final since holding off Novak Djokovic in last year’s French Open. It was a convincing win for Nadal in Buenos Aires, beating Monaco 6-4 6-1.
The win could give Nadal some much-needed momentum in the weeks leading up to the second grand slam of the year, and it helped him surpass Andy Murray in the ATP rankings, though he didn’t beat a highly rated opponent. Monaco is ranked 48th in world, moving up from No.60 in the previous week. He’s never been ranked better than No.41, which he reached in May 2009. Prior to defeating Monaco, Nadal defeated 32-year-old Carlos Berlocq, who is ranked 67th.
History is still on Nadal's side at Roland Garros. The 28-year-old remains the French Open favorite, having won the event in nine of the last 10 years and dominating on clay like no player in the sport’s history. Yet, the “King of Clay,” has proven to be beatable on his preferred surface, losing at the Rio Open, prior to his clay-court victory in Argentina. The upset at the hands of Fabio Fognini, who currently ranks 22nd in the world, was Nadal’s first tour-level semi-finals loss on clay in 52 matches.
Recent tournament wins and a lack of matches against elite competition may cast some doubt on Nadal's progress. In the first grand slam of 2015, Nadal failed to advance beyond the quarterfinals. He was defeated by Tomas Berdych in the Australian Open, a tournament Nadal last won in 2009. Wins against No. 17 Kevin Anderson in straight sets in Melbourne, and a three-set win over No. 24 Pablo Cuevas at the Rio Open represent the only examples of Nadal defeating notable competition.
How he has recovered from injuries has been the main storyline surrounding the Spaniard in recent months. Nadal battled with a back injury in 2014, and the ailment had bothered him since last year’s Australian Open. The injury hampered him when he lost to Stanislas Wawrinka in the event, and he eventually underwent stem cell treatment for his back pain. Nadal withdrew from the 2014 U.S. Open because of a wrist injury, and an appendectomy ended his 2014 season. But he hasn’t blamed injuries for the early struggles he faced in 2015.
Meanwhile, Nadal wasn’t the only top player to get a win over the weekend, and could face serious challenges at Roland Garros. Roger Federer took the title at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships on Saturday night, defeating Novak Djokovic in the final. It was Federer’s second title of 2015, keeping him ranked No.2 in the world.
Djokovic remains the top-ranked player in tennis, despite the Dubai loss. The Serbian star won the 2015 Australian Open, with his fourth victory in five years. Djokovic was a finalist at the French Open in 2012 and 2014, and is certainly eager to win the only grand slam that has eluded him.
David Ferrer, an underdog candidate to win in Paris, also had a big win over the weekend. The No.9 player in the world topped Kei Nishikori to win the Abierto Mexicano Telcel final. Nishikori has nevertheless come on strong in recent months, and surpassed Andy Murray in the rankings at No.4.