BY Joe Cahal
Rafa Nadal has slipped to his lowest ranking since he was a teenager and speculation is mounting as to whether the Spanish superstar is finished or if he’ll bounce back and add to his 14 Grand Slam titles.
The latest world rankings make grim reading for Nadal fans with their idol having dropped to 10th – his lowest placing in more than a decade.
In April 2005 the hot-shot was still 19, ranked 11th and about to embark on a glittering pursuit of titles that would achieve a career grand slam of majors, an Olympic Gold medal and world number one status.
However, a quarter-final defeat to Novak Djokovic on Nadal’s 29th birthday – his first loss on the Paris clay courts in six years and only his second in 72 matches in Paris where has won nine titles – has led many to question if he can regain his form, including the Spaniard himself.
“I must improve my level of tennis, my intensity on the court,” said Nadal on Monday. “If I can do that I’m confident I can return to my best.”
While his fans will dearly hope so, tennis pundits and commentators aren’t so sure, especially given Djokovic’s dominance in a one-sided three set encounter against Nadal.
“Rafa’s got problems in his game. If you look at the score, it’s a good old beating,” remarked Pat Cash, the 1987 Wimbledon Champion, after the 7-5 6-3 6-1 match.
It also continued a worrying trend for Nadal fans with Djokovic having now won six of their last seven meetings.
But Nadal remains defiant and reflected: “I lost in 2009 and it was not the end. I lost in 2015 and it’s not the end.”
He added: “I have been very successful here for nine years out of 11. I lost twice. Everybody loses in every place. I lost not many times here, and that day arrived today.
“Again, I accept it like I always accept the defeats, and there is only one sure thing: I want to work harder even than before to come back stronger.”
The new men’s rankings shows Djokovic retaining his world number one spot despite losing an enthralling four set final at Roland Garros to Stan Wawrinka on Sunday.
The 28-year-old Serb’s 28 match winning streak was brought to an end by 30-year-old Wawrinka who claimed his second career Grand Slam title by adding the French crown to his 2014 Australian Open title .
The Swiss was seeded eighth going into the tournament and is now ranked number four in the world.
Roger Federer – with whom Wawrinka won the Davis Cup in November – is at number two and Andy Murray is ranked third. Japan’s Kei Nishikori completes the top five.
Wawrinka’s win makes him one of the early favorites for Wimbledon as the grass-court season gets underway, but the new world number four knows he’ll need to match his brilliant performances on clay if he’s to have any chance of adding to his two major titles.
“I’m not as strong as the ‘big four’,” said Wawrinka. “They are winning everything. But I’m strong enough to win some big titles sometimes.”