Pundits and fans started earlier in the year to voice their opinion on Nadal’s 2017 season. Quite a lot of them were claiming to be his best in the career. I think not. Here’s why.
The Spaniard wasn’t able to claim any title until the clay court swing. On the hard courts was hesitant and didn’t look comfortable. He had to put in a lot of effort to claim some good results, but flunked when the big moments arrived.
Even though he made it to the final in Australian Open, he barely did it, struggling for form in the process. His big heart, experience and effort made him surpass hugely talented players like Alexander Zverev and Grigor Dimitrov.
Another reason why this is not his best season is that he lost against Roger Federer each time. El Toro put in a big fight in Australian Open, but even though was leading by a break in the decider, 3-1, he went on losing 5 games in a row. Then they met during the Sunshine double, Indian Wells and Miami. The Swiss dominated both matches, winning in such a categorical manner.
Rafa also had a lot of issues with big servers, losing on the hard courts against Milos Raonic (QF, Brisbane) and Sam Querrey (F, Acapulco).
I remember that before the clay court season people were writing Nadal off as a true contender for the big titles. But he totally dominated the clay court swing, winning almost everything he entered. He only lost in Rome due to fatigue. If we’re speaking about the red dirt season alone, yes, we can easily say that is one of his best seasons, if not the best.
But what followed wasn’t that convincing. He lost in the 4th round of Wimbledon to another big server, Gilles Muller.
On his first chance to regain the World number 1, he failed lamentably losing in front of the Canadian teenager, Denis Shapovalov, which indeed showed a lot of courage and displayed a spectacular play. Nadal wasn’t carrying any injury.
He went on to claim World number 1 a week later, as Federer retired due to injury. But even now he finished his campaign abruptly, losing in the Quarters against the Australian sensation and bad boy, Nick Kyrgios.
Another fortunate conjuncture for him is that he profited from the numerous amazing players that are injured. He had years in which he was dominant on all surfaces, even with Djokovic, Murray or such in action. The Spaniard lost 7 matches in a row against Djokovic until 2017 and 4 in a row against Federer (3 this year).
This year might be considered great also when looked in contrast with his last years, when injuries plagued his performances. Rafa didn’t reach a Grand Slam final for 3 years.
After a disappointing hard court season campaign, he indeed claimed US Open. But this US Open had by far the weakest line up in a Grand Slam in at least the last 10 years. Again, not his fault, but the truth nevertheless. He didn’t meet a player inside top 50 until the Semi-Final, nor he encountered any player inside top 20 to claim the title. Also, the court was incredibly slow for a fast court, which helped his cause as well.
Even during the Laver Cup he struggled, as he had to deal again with big servers. He went losing against Isner, after a hesitant and uninspired display, and barely won against Jack Sock, which still lacks experience.
Why is he not yet considered the GOAT? Simple, he is still mostly a clay court specialist. He is without a doubt the best clay court player of all times, but still struggles on other surfaces. As fast they are, as low he likes them and suits him.
He is still yet to win a World Tour Final, where the best 8 players in the World meet at the end of the year. Mainly because it was always played on fast courts, but also shows that he can’t sustain the highest level when competing only with the elite.
His results on other surfaces are still amazing and some players can only dream of what he achieved, but nothing close to his clay results and other great champions’ records.