March 21 (Reuters) – Rafa Nadal’s absence from Indian Wells saw the 22-times Grand Slam champion slip out of the top 10 for the first time since 2005 on Monday but the Spaniard will still be the “man to beat” at the French Open if he can get back to full fitness.
Nadal was forced to skip the Masters 1000 event in California, where he reached the final last year, as he continues his recovery from a hip issue that ended his Australian Open title defence in the second round in January.
Unable to defend the 600 points from Indian Wells resulted in Nadal dropping four places to 13th in the rankings, ending his record 912-week stay inside the top 10, which began when current number one Carlos Alcaraz was not even two years old.
However, with Nadal preparing to return to action at the Monte Carlo Masters next month ahead of the French Open, which he has won 14 times in his career, his time outside the top 10 might be short.
World number four Casper Ruud, who lost to Nadal in the Roland Garros final last year, said he would not be shocked to see the 36-year-old lift the trophy once again.
“It wouldn’t surprise me because he’ll probably use these weeks and these months, as he’s preparing for exactly Roland Garros,” Ruud told Eurosport as part of the ‘Ruud Talk‘ series.
“It doesn’t matter if he loses in Monte Carlo or Rome or Madrid. The only thing that’s probably on his mind these days is just to be fit, be healthy and be ready for Roland Garros.”
Tennis lost two of its greats when Serena Williams and Roger Federer bowed out of the sport last year, but Nadal and rival Novak Djokovic are still soldiering on.
Djokovic, who turns 36 in May, has shown few signs of slowing down and drew level with Nadal on 22 Grand Slams by winning the Australian Open.
“For the whole tennis world it would be nice to see one last showdown at Roland Garros,” former U.S. Open champion Dominic Thiem said, adding that Djokovic would be favourite to win the remaining Grand Slams this year.
“The only tournament is Roland Garros: if Rafa is fit there, it’s exactly the opposite. He’s the man to beat when he won the tournament 14 times, it’s crazy.”
Reporting by Shrivathsa Sridhar in Bengaluru; Editing by Peter Rutherford
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