Rafael Nadal has called an end to a stellar year that has seen him add two Grand Slams to his tally as well as reclaim the top spot of the world rankings. These feats are even more astonishing when you think of what Nadal was going through this time last year, where many people thought he was done. We have learnt this lesson time and time again: write the Spaniard off at your own peril.
The announcement was made after his opening match at the Nitto ATP Finals, where he was defeated in a tight three set battle with David Goffin. The Spaniard was clearly struggling in that encounter which, at times, was painful to watch. The World #1 would have definitely wanted to end 2017 on a high, “I deserved a better ending but sport does not owe anything to anyone”. Nevertheless, 2017 will go down as one of the greatest seasons in his remarkable career.
10th Roland Garros Title
The King of Clay entered the French capital as an extremely heavy favourite to etch his name into history once again. Going into Roland Garros, Nadal was 17-1 in the clay season, with his only loss coming to clay specialist Dominic Thiem in Rome. The Spaniard claimed a historic 10th title in Monte Carlo and followed this up with a 10th title in Barcelona. Another clay title was added to his impressive resume when he was triumphant at the Madrid Masters. Nadal picked up where he left off as he set the French Open alight.
In his six matches leading up to the final, the King of Clay had dropped only 29 games – an average of five a match! Across the net in the final was Stan Wawrinka, a man who had never lost a Grand Slam final. Dubbed as the “big match player,” the Swiss was expected to really push Nadal and maybe even beat him. This could not have been further from the truth as Nadal absolutely dominated him for the loss of six games. The performance in that final was arguably the greatest single performance in his entire career.
The blistering form Nadal showed in Paris created more tennis history because he became the first man ever to win ten titles at a single Grand Slam. It was also his first Grand Slam title in three years, so the emotions from Nadal were extra special on a monumental day at the French Open.
US Open Champion
The Spaniard sprang back into form when it mattered the most at the US Open. Early losses to Shapovalov and Kyrgios in the lead up events caused people to doubt whether the Spaniard could claim a third title in New York. Two shaky opening round wins fueled the arguments for the doubters but like all great champions, Nadal just got better and better as each round progressed. It is not about how you start, but about how you finish.
Nadal only faced two seeded players on his way to the title and the highest ranked opponent he played was world #28 Juan Martin del Potro. However, you can only beat who is in front of you and Nadal has been losing a lot of matches he should not have been in Grand Slams the past few years, so this victory showed terrific mental resilience. In addition, del Potro is a former US Open champion so it was definitely not easy for the Spaniard. A brutal display in the final saw Rafael Nadal defeat Kevin Anderson to claim his 16th Grand Slam and his first hard court major in four years.
Australian Open Finalist
The Spaniard has been in blistering form in the Majors this year. The Grand Slam season started for him in Melbourne at the Australian Open. Not much was expected of the 2009 champion going into the event due to the fact he was the #9 seed and he had not reached a Grand Slam quarterfinal in over 18 months. The draw was brutal for the 2009 champion, and only his best tennis would get him through. Two convincing wins kicked off the tournament for Nadal but there was a wall of top players between him and the final.
Nadal secured wins over Alexander Zverev, Gael Monfils, Milos Raonic, and Grigor Dimitrov to make a fourth Australian Open final of his career. The match against Dimitrov was an epic that will live long in the memory of fans worldwide. Deep into the fifth set, Dimitrov stood five points away from victory but the Spaniard showed exceptional mental fortitude to find a way to win yet again.
Rafael Nadal set up a mouthwatering final against his great friend and rival, Roger Federer (a man who had not beaten him in a Slam since Wimbledon 2007). A physically fresh Federer combined with a lethal, improved backhand caused a deadly combination that Nadal found hard to handle. The Spaniard came so close to victory as he led 3-1 in the fifth set; however, the Swiss kept swinging away and claimed this classic. It was a terrific start to the Grand Slam season for Rafael Nadal.
Return to World #1
The 16-time Grand Slam champion has enjoyed a sensational season with outstanding consistency. He has been the victor in 67 of his 78 matches this year, which equates to an 85% win record. This success has allowed Rafael Nadal to reclaim the top spot in the world rankings which he achieved in August, three years since his last spell at the top. He has been a winning machine this year with titles in Monte Carlo, Barcelona, Madrid, Roland Garros, the US Open, and Beijing.
It took some career-best performances to even defeat him this year. Eight players have defeated the world #1 in 2017: Raonic, Sam Querrey, Thiem, Gilles Muller, Denis Shapovalov, Nick Kyrgios, Goffin, and Federer on four occasions. All of these players had to play their best tennis to defeat him, which shows how high Nadal’s level was this season.
2017 will be the fourth time that Rafael Nadal finishes a season as the world’s best player after he achieved the feat in 2008, 2010, and 2013. He now holds the record for the longest time between his first and last year end #1 finish with a staggering nine years. Second place to this particular record is Federer and Sampras, with five years. Nadal also becomes the oldest ever year end #1 at 31 years old – an age many people thought he would struggle at.
Can 2018 Be Better?
Without question, Nadal will be able to replicate his form. His level is there but it is a question of his fitness – can his body last a full season? Perhaps he could take a leaf out of Roger Federer’s book and play a reduced schedule. Next year will be even tougher with the return of Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray, and Wawrinka, thus creating a mouthwatering season in prospect.
2017 has been an unbelievable year for the 31-year-old, and it is remarkable to think he started the year ranked #9. Nadal has reclaimed the top spot in the world rankings with the help of victories at the French Open and the US Open. The great Spaniard ended his final press conference of the season by saying “Merry Christmas everyone and see you next year.” The tennis world will be eagerly awaiting his return.