Rafa wins Rome Masters after beating Djokovic 7-5 1-6 6-3 in a hard-fought match. He now matches the record of 36 Masters titles with Novak.
Rafa had a few ups and downs during the Rome Masters tournament, but as usual, he grew stronger as the tournament progressed and in the final, he was back close to his best. This is not great news for the rest of the field ahead of the French Open. How do you beat this guy on clay? Nobody really knows. Rafa wins Rome Masters and is now on 36 Masters titles, the same as Novak. These guys keep pushing the envelope and breaking all the records. We’re likely not going to see any “changing of the guard” in 2021.
When asked about the “Next-gen”, both Novak and Rafa joked that they are the “next-gen”. Meaning that until the younger generation starts winning the slams, it’s difficult to talk about new contenders. They’re right of course. The stronghold on the biggest titles in tennis by the 3 GOATs is impressive and not weaker in 2021 than it was in 2011.
Novak is his toughest opponent of course, but the world number one has now lost their most recent encounters on clay and will likely not be brimming with confidence against the King of Clay if they meet in the French Open final. This makes Rafa a huge odds favorite ahead of Roland Garros.
Among the other contenders, we find Dominic Thiem, but he has not been his best self in 2021. Tsitsipas is another threat, but can he last five sets against Rafa at the French Open? Well, he is one of the few that can stand a chance.
Federer is back in action at the Gonet Geneva Open, which is his warm-up event ahead of Roland Garros, but despite his GOAT status, it’s hard to see him being successful on clay after such a long injury lay-off and period away from playing on the red dirt. He did make the semi-finals at the French Open in 2019 and he is Roger Federer, so you can never quite count him out, but you can’t really count him in either.
Rublev? Nah, he seems (understandably) to be a little bit out of gas at the moment. Medvedev “hates” clay (as he has said many times this season). Karatsev or some other outsider perhaps? Maybe Sinner if he has a day when everything works?
But you really need to have a strong imagination to see anyone beat Rafa over five sets on clay. Do you see anyone who can do it?