The King of Clay is after his eleventh title at Roland-Garros, and it’s hard to picture anyone stopping him.
The trouble is, when the Spaniard has set his bar so meteorically high, any drop below his supreme standards usually evokes some murmurs around his ability to win the title. The truth his, he won his first two matches comfortably, but not as comfortably as he has looked so far this clay season.
The world number one has looked at his ferocious best leading up to Roland-Garros, sweeping through the Monte-Carlos Masters, Barcelona Open and Italian Open with consummate ease. Although he has looked slightly slower and defensive so far in Paris, that should not mean anything.
Nadal has been prone to be a slow starter in some tournaments, and that’s when his opponents must strike. Come the second week of a Grand Slam, he builds momentum and is very hard to stop.
His performance against Richard Gasquet suggests the cogs are starting to turn. At a tournament where he has only lost twice in, one senses the inevitably come next Sunday.
The main story surrounding world number one Simona Halep this week was not her performances, where she fairly comfortably progressed to the last sixteen, but the bizarre choice to banish her to court 18.
The choice to play Saturday’s match against Andrea Petkovic is slightly disrespectful to a two-time finalist and the world’s best.
This may spur her on and, with form players like Petra Kvitova and Elina Svitolina making an early exit, her hopes of clinching her first Grand Slam will be boosted.
The two players who have had the best clay court season so far after Nadal are Dominic Thiem and number two seed Alexander Zverev. This is what makes their quarter-final battle so attractive.
The young German has had a very good season so far the Italian Open and pushing Nadal all the way in the final of the Italian Open, but it just looks like he still may be struggling to shake off this ‘choker’ tag that he is beginning to develop in Grand Slams.
It is absurd to think that this reputation will last, and he will surely win a Grand Slam in the future, but his five-setters against Džumhur, Dušan Lajović and Karen Kachanov suggest he may still lack the temperament to win in the big occasion. On the other hand, coming through indicates a sign of maturity.
His Austrian opponent has looked much more assured on his way to the quarter-final, and looked very dangerous at times against Kei Nishinori. Zverev got the best of him at Madrid, a tournament where Thiem had already beaten Nadal, so both have a lot to draw upon for encouragement.
Possibly three gruelling matches that have gone all the way may have fatigued Zverev, but this is hard to call. But do not be surprised to see this winner of this lining up against Rafa on Sunday.
Lurking in the background, stuttering and stalling, going from one on-court tantrum to another is 2016 champion Novak Djokovic.
The Serb has looked far from his best this year. But the old adage is true that champions know how to win. There have been flashes of the old Djokovic, but they have been sandwiched between silly errors and frustration that seems to get the best of him.
Roberto Bautista-Agut is a good player, likewise Fernando Verdasco; overcoming those men may be a sign that he is slowly building his rhythm. He’ll only grow more comfortable as the tournament progresses. Does he have it in him to topple Nadal like he did in 2015? Seems unlikely.
A similar player in the women’s draw is Serena Williams, who is still on the comeback trail after the birth of her daughter.
Her match-up against bitter rival Maria Sharapova on Monday is hotly anticipated. The winner of that match will emerge as a strong contender for the title, despite both players’ exile from the game.
Number four may have been a generous seeding for Grigor Dimitrov- a man that has never reached the second week at Roland-Garros- and so it proved to be.
After sneaking past Jared Donaldon in an extremely tight affair, he was unceremoniously dumped out by the old timer Fernando Verdasco.
Forever playing with the tag ‘Baby Federer’, although, dare I say half the player, this is a surface both men have struggled on. However, ‘struggled’ in terms of Roger Federer means making the final five times and only winning once; much less can be said about Dimitrov.
In the women’s draw, Petra Kvitova entered the tournament with a lot of confidence having won the Prague Open and Madrid Open.
However, her loss to Anett Kontaveit on Saturday ended the chances of a hopeful in the tournament, and was another early upset.
The 2015 champion Stan Wawrinka had played very little tennis leading into the tournament after a serious injury, and it showed in his first round loss against Guillermo García-López. Unfortunately he now slips out of the world’s top 250.