Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Rivals Are in Fear Again as Rafa Bids for Gr-Eightness; Clay Genuis Can Make Paris History

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Rivals Are in Fear Again as Rafa Bids for Gr-Eightness; Clay Genuis Can Make Paris History

Article excerpt

Byline: Chris Jones Tennis Correspondent

RAFAEL NADAL is aiming for an Open era record eighth French title at Roland Garros starting on Sunday after one of the most remarkable comebacks from serious injury the sport has ever seen.

The Spaniard's left knee is a ticking time bomb, his career in constant jeopardy because of the pain that continually hampers the world No4.

He disappeared from sight after losing in the second-round at Wimbledon last year to unheralded Lukas Rosol, his absence punctuated by reports of constant set-backs.

Then, after seven months out which robbed him of the chance to compete in the Olympics and two Grand Slams, he was back ... with a bang.

He has proved the doubters wrong by winning six of his eight tournaments on clay climaxing in the destruction of Roger Federer, arguably the greatest player the game has ever seen, 6-1, 6-3 in a 63-minute Italian Open Final.

Nadal could be up against his great rival in the final again this year after the pair were placed in separate halves of the draw in Paris today.

"If you'd told me that four or five months ago I would have said you are crazy," said the 26-year-old, who has won 36 of 38 matches in 2013. "So after eight tournaments, six victories and two [losing] finals, it's a dream for me."

For 31-year-old Federer, winner of a record 17 Grand Slam singles titles, and the rest of the sport, the sight of Nadal sliding around the baseline of a clay court is a nightmare and former great Bjorn Borg expects the Spaniard to continue to dominate on the surface that best suits his knee problem.

The hard courts of Melbourne and New York cause Nadal serious pain while the clay of Paris and Wimbledon's grass are the surfaces that give him the least trouble so it would be no surprise if he severely limits his time on concrete in the future.

Borg, whose six French titles were eclipsed by Nadal last year, said: "Rafa's incredible -- he is the best player that there has ever been on clay. …

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