Can anyone crack Rafael Nadal on clay?
After only eight days into the 57-date European claycourt season, it seems as if only one name will be engraved on the French Open trophy this year.
Just as Robert Langdon dashed around the streets of Paris trying to solve the Da Vinci Code, the likes of Roger Federer and company have become obsessed with finding a way to crack Rafael Nadal at Roland Garros.
But while Dan Brown’s fictitious symbologist systematically unravelled the riddles he came up against, no one has managed to work out a way of beating Nadal at the traditional home of claycourt tennis.
The rampaging Spaniard has flattened everyone who has stood before him to win the French Open four times in four attempts and the chances of anyone snapping that run appear extremely slim.
By winning his fifth consecutive Monte Carlo Masters crown on Sunday, Nadal improved his claycourt finals record to 23-1 but surely not all of his rivals will be turning up at Roland Garros simply to make up the numbers in the 128-strong draw.
If that had been the case at Wimbledon during the 1990s, Pete Sampras would have won eight consecutive titles at the All England Club. Instead Richard Krajicek proved that the unbeatable American could be beaten and shunted Sampras aside, albeit briefly, to triumph in 1996.
It was Sampras’s only defeat in London from 1993 to 2001.
Another glimmer of hope for Nadal’s challengers is his recent injury problems. He brought his 2008 season to a premature end due to tendonitis in his right knee. Since he also had to sit out a few weeks in February when problems with the knee flared up, there is always the possibility that his relentless style of play could take a toll on his body again.
Should that occur anytime before June 7, his hopes of a record fifth title could be wrecked.
But barring any unexpected setback, the odds are that none of Nadal’s rivals will have the stamina, the legs or the heart to snatch away the Musketeers’ Cup from the Spaniard.