By Nikiforos Giakoumelos (A class)
There is no doubt about that 2015 was a destructive year for the ‘King of Clay’, Rafael Nadal.
After suffering a horrible knee tendinitis in the end of 2014, it was obvious that his comeback would not be an easy one. But no one could imagine this garbage. What numbers say is:
|2015 season||2014 season|
|Wins-Losses (Wins Percentage)||61–20 (75.31%)||
|World Ranking||No. 5||No. 3|
|Grand Slams won||0/4||1/3|
But let’s see the most representative moments of the year, with chronological order, from Qatar Open in January until ATP World Tour Finals in November:
- Nadal began the year as the defending champion at the Qatar Open. However, he lost in the first round, suffering a shocking three set defeat to world number 127 Michael Berrer.
- In the Australian Open, he beat Dudi Sela and Kevin Anderson in straight sets to advance to his 28th career Grand Slam quarterfinal. He was defeated there by Tomáš Berdych, thus ending his 17-match win streak against the Czech.
- In the Rio Open, Nadal reached the semifinals of the Rio Open after defeating Thomaz Bellucci, Pablo Carreno Busta and Pablo Cuevas. However, he lost to Fabio Fognini in three sets in the semifinals, despite winning the first set and being a break up in the second. This was the first loss in his career against the Italian.
- Nadal played in the ATP Buenos Airestournament, in Argentina, reaching the final without losing a set. He won his first singles title of 2015 and his 46th career clay-court title with a straight-sets victory over Juan Mónaco.
- Nadal reached the quarterfinals of the Indian Wells Masters after beating his first three opponents in straight sets. However, his run was ended by Milos Raonic who beat him in three tight sets after Nadal squandered three match points in the second set tiebreak.
- He next competed at the Miami Open, hoping to reach the final for the fifth time and win the tournament for the first time but he lost to Fernando Verdasco in the fourth round in three sets, failing to reach the fourth round of the Miami Open for the first time since 2006 (absent in 2013).
- Nadal began his favourite part of the season in the clay courts of Monte-Carlo. After a first round bye, he defeated Lucas Pouille in straight sets match before working hard to pass through big-serving John Isnerin three tough sets to book his quarterfinal spot. He defeated David Ferrerin another tight, three set match to proceed to the semifinals, and record his first win over a top 10 player since the final of the 2014 French Open. However, he was defeated by world No.1 Novak Djokovicin the semifinals in straight sets.
- Nadal received a bye in the first round of the 2015 Barcelona Open Banc Sabadelland faced Nicolás Almagroin the second round, completing his revenge for his only loss in Barcelona last year to him by beating him in straight sets. However, he was upset by Fabio Fognini in the next round in straight sets for the second time in the year.
- In Madrid Open, after two easy wins, Nadal had a two set win over Tomáš Berdychto reach his seventh Madrid Open final and 41st Masters 1000 final. He lost to Andy Murray in the final in straight sets. The loss saw Nadal drop out of the Top 5 for the first time since 2005, falling to No. 7.
- Nadal opened his campaign for a 10th Roland Garros title by facing off against wildcard Quentin Halys, beating him in straight sets. He then defeated compatriot Nicolás Almagroand Andrey Kuznetsov, again both in straight sets. In the fourth round he defeated Jack Sockin four sets, but eventually lost to Novak Djokovic in the quarterfinals. The loss ended Nadal’s 5 year winning streak at Roland Garros and was just his second loss ever at the tournament. This loss also marked the first time since 2004 that Nadal failed to win at least one of the first two Grand Slam events of the season. As a result, his ranking dropped to No. 10 in the ATP singles ranking, his lowest ranking since April 2005, when he was nineteen years old.
- In the Stuttgart Open , Nadal reached his first grass-court tournament final since reaching the 2011 Wimbledon final by beating Gaël Monfilsin straight sets. Nadal won his third Stuttgart title and first grass-court title for the first time since winning the 2010 Wimbledon Championships by beating Viktor Troicki in straight sets in the final. It was only his 2nd title of 2015.
- Nadal played at the Queen’s Club for the first time since 2011 as the fifth seed. He was knocked out in the first round by Alexandr Dolgopolov, who had previously beaten him at the 2014 BNP Paribas Open.
- Nadal played at the 2015 Wimbledonas tenth seed. After beating Thomaz Bellucciin the first round in straight sets, he was eliminated in the second round in four sets by Dustin Brown. By winning, Brown became the first ever qualifier to ever beat Nadal at a Grand Slam.
- Nadal decided to participate in the German Open for the first time since he defeated Roger Federerin the 2008 final in this tournament. Nadal extended his streak of winning at least one European clay-court title every year since winning in 2004 by beating Fabio Fognini in the Hamburg final in straight sets.
- Nadal opened his hard-court season campaign in Canada where he had won the title 3 times. He faced Sergiy Stakhovsky as his first opponent and defeated him in straight sets. He beat Mhail Youzhnyin the third round and advanced to QF, where he lost to Kei Nishikori in straight sets. This marked the first time in eight meetings that he lost a match against the Japanese player.
- Nadal participated in the Cincinnati Masters the following week, hoping to repeat his 2013 feat by winning this tournament. He opened his campaign against Frenchman Jérémy Chardyand successfully defeated the Rogers Cup semi-finalist in straight sets to book his third round clash with compatriot Feliciano López, which he lost in three sets.
- In the final major of the season, US Open, Nadal once again faced Fognini, and again was defeated by the player from Italy, losing in the third round. In that match, Nadal won the first two sets, and previously had been 151–0 in Grand Slam matches that he led two sets to none. However, Fognini still defeated Nadal in five sets. The upset loss ended Nadal’s record 10-year streak of winning at least one major, and leaving him one year short of the record 11-year streak of reaching at least one major final.
- Nadal received a first round bye into this ATP Masters 1000 event and faced Ivo Carlovic in the second round. Then he avenged his Indian Wells quarterfinals lost against Milos Raonicby beating him in straight sets to reach the quarterfinals. He defeated World No.4 and 2015 French Open Champion Stan Wawrinkain straight sets to reach his first semifinal of a Masters 1000 hard-court tournament in more than a year and with this win, Nadal has qualified for the ATP World Tour Finals. Despite sporting an 8-3 head-to-head winning record against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Nadal fell to the Frenchman in the semi-finals in three sets 4–6, 6–0, 5–7.
- Nadal participated in the Swiss Indoors ATP 500 at Basel and reached the second final in a hard-court tournament of the season when he beat Frenchman Richard Gasquetin straight sets to set his first meeting for almost 2 years with long-time rival Roger Federer. However, in his first final at the Swiss Indoor, Nadal lost 3-6, 7-5, 3-6 to Federer.
- Rafael Nadal was seeded fifth in the 2015 ATP World Tour Finals in London and was drawn in the Ilie Năstase Group alongside Andy Murray, David Ferrer and Stan Wawrinka. He first played against Wawrinka and successfully crushed his nemesis in straight sets. Nadal continued his blistering resurgence of form by dominating a fellow Big Four, Murray, in straight sets to claim a semifinal spot in the ATP Finals. He then beat Ferrer in three sets, advancing to the semifinals with three wins. But he then lost to Novak Djokovic in straight sets.
All in all, Rafa, it was a disappointing year. What do you think, can you recover in 2016 ?