There had been some hopes that this year’s French Open might be an unexpectedly competitive one. Ten-time men’s champion and world No.2 Rafael Nadal has spent most of 2018 rehabbing a leg injury while a surging Roger Federer was thought to be weighing a run at his least successful Grand Slam.
Federer had hinted that he might compete in the French, despite the often tax conditions on the body. The 36-year-old had only won the tournament once, while boasting six Australian Open titles, eight Wimbledon titles and five U.S. Open titles.
But after a shock defeat to Australian qualifier Thanasi Kokkinakis at the Miami Open last week, Federer announced he was skipping the clay-court season. The decision ended any fantasy that an inspired Federer, who had entered his match with Kokkinakis with a 17-1 overall record in 2018, might stun Nadal after a two-year absence from the French.
Federer’s potential presence at Roland Garros, however, had not been thought to provide much of an impediment for Nadal to once again assert his dominance in Paris.
In mid-February, Nadal was listed by most betting sites as a 4/5 favorite, followed by Novak Djokovic (5/1), Dominic Thiem (8/1), Stan Wawrinka (12/1) and Federer at No. 5 but as a 14/1 longshot.
With Federer out of the mix, Nadal is still a 4/5 favorite, though Djokovic has improved to 11/2, according to Sky Bet.
The French Open, which starts in 50 days, may have another dark horse in Juan Martin del Potro, who is coming off a win at Indian Wells. The Argentine star has jumped to No. 6 in the ATP rankings and has as high as 11/1 odds to win the French.
Meanwhile, Nadal has not played a competitive match since Jan. 23 and could compete for Spain next week in the Davis Cup quarterfinals against Germany. However, there doesn’t seem to be much interest in rushing him back.
“He is getting better and about to finish his recovery, training well and in better shape,” Spain captain Sergi Bruguera said of Nadal on Tuesday. “We still have a week and a half to go before the series and we hope that he will be better.”
Nadal on March 22 posted an Instagram video of himself hitting groundstrokes on red clay, though the clip didn’t show much of the trademark mobility that has made him one of the game’s greatest players. The 31-year-old posted another Instagram video on Tuesday that provided a bit more evidence of his physical progress.