Michael Emmett: ” Rafa at the French”

Written by: Michael Emmett


***Michael Emmett is the Director of Tennis Operations at all Mayfair clubs.  He is a certified Tennis Canada Coach 3 with a Journalism degree from the University of Texas. Michael spent several years working in sports television at TSN and Sportsnet.  Michael is a former National champion who finished his last year of junior tennis ranked #1 in Canada.  Michael has coached several National champions when he worked for the All-Canadian Academy at the National Tennis Centre at York University in the early 90s.  Michael spent 2 years traveling the world playing the ATP tour satellite circuit as a member of the Molson National Team in 1985 and ’86.***


Rafael Nadal is no longer the no. 1 player in the world. Due to a serious knee injury and almost seven months away from the sport the king of clay is now ranked # 5 in the latest ATP rankings. His last grand slam match took place in June at Wimbledon in 2012 when he lost to a relative no-name from the Czech Republic – Lukas Rosol (who was ranked no. 100 at the time).

Nadal, in eight trips to Paris, has an all time record 7 French Open Championships. His career record is 52-1 on the terre battue at Roland Garros. Amazingly, his only loss at this spectacular clay court championship came in 2009 when he lost to Robin Soderling in the quarterfinals. Arguably, the greatest upset in the history of the world’s most important clay court event. No doubt, Nadal is the most masterful player of our generation on the dirt and definitely the best clay court player of all time.

There has never been a more dominant player on a specific surface. One could argue Pete Sampras on the lawns at Wimbledon or Roger Federer at the same venue. But nobody has ever had a better winning percentage at any major then Rafa at the French. Nadal has been as close to perfect as any player in the history of the game. His dominance on the red clay in the last two decades has been astonishing.

So the obvious question arises as we get ready for tennis’ next major – assuming Nadal is still ranked outside of the top five – where does the magician from Mallorca get seeded? Can this clay court wizard really be seeded outside the top five on a surface he has owned?

As we get closer to May and the next grand slam on the calendar, we know Rafa’s ranking has nowhere to go but down. He has too many points to defend. Even if he were to win in Madrid, Monte Carlo and Rome his ranking would likely remain status quo. In all likelihood, Rafa will be ranked 5th or 6th prior to the French Championships, and a quarterfinal matchup with Federer, Djokovic or Murray is a strong possibility. Something that is terribly unfair to both Nadal and the unlucky superstar who comes up against him in the final eight. It’s a question that will be debated more and more as we get closer to May.

So, pretend you are part of the committee who makes these big decisions. Last year this committee didn’t use their executive power and seed Rafa #1. The 2012 event stayed with the ATP rankings and seeded Nadal #2, even though Rafa had a career record of 45-1 at the French at the time. And for the record, Nadal went on to win his seventh championship beating Djokovic in four sets, despite the lower seeding.

Djokovic, who had never won the French, was seeded #1. Albeit, the committee heads have the power, just like the folks at Wimbledon to adjust the seeds, although history shows us they are reluctant to do so. The Wimbledon Committee has proven to be more adventurous in recent years. And in this instance, I believe the French folks need to change their ways. If Rafa is anywhere close to the ‘old’ Nadal he has to be seeded inside the top four regardless of his ranking.

Do you hold true to form and seed the players just as they are ranked or do you use common sense and seed Mr. Nadal #1, or at least #2, 3 or 4? My answer to that would be – it depends on his health and his results.

One argument could be that Nadal is just not the same player as he was during all those magical runs at Roland Garros. Let’s say he loses early in the warmup tournaments – as he did in the finals of Chile last month to Horacio Zeballos. This is a guy he beat in three easy sets not so long ago at the French Open. If these kinds of results continue then I’d say the issue is solved. But don’t forget he did beat David Nalbandian on indoor clay almost three weeks ago in Sao Paulo, Brazil, in a route.

If he fails to win at least one of the lead up tournaments (the bigger 500 series events in Europe) then I agree with seeding him where his ranking lies. You can’t put him at the top of the draw if he hasn’t won a higher tier tournament in at least ten months.

But what if he wins in Monte Carlo and in Rome as he did a year ago? What if he proves he’s healthy and in top notch form – as ready as ever to defend HIS clay court major and win an unprecedented 8th title? All this and a world ranking outside the top four – so, if it was up to you, where would you seed the best clay courter the world has ever seen?

If it was up to me, and Nadal proved he was in form, I would ignore history, ignore the ATP tour and seed him No. 2.

Djokovic has earned the top ranking with dominant play in the last 6 months. If they didn’t put Nadal ahead of the Joker last season, they certainly won’t do it in 2013. Putting Nadal on the bottom line is the correct thing to do. It won’t matter to the other top players – they will not be inconvenienced in the slightest. Dropping one spot from their current ranking is not an issue at all for these heavyweights. The draw will be more structured and everyone involved will benefit. History says it won’t happen, but then again everyone knows it’s the right thing to do!

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