Don't call it a comeback. It has been one of the unanswered questions in men's tennis over the past two years, will Rafael Nadal ever return to the level that saw him rule not only the clay courts but every court he would walk out on. More recently after 2015 the expectation had been lowered to whether he would even win another French Open, however in the past few weeks the Spaniard has shown glimpses of the performances that have seen him win 14 Grand Slams.
There have been many false dawns in the last couple years after which he would go on to lose the next match killing the optimism of his ever loyal fanbase. Though the last two weeks have appeared to be different, wins against French Open champion Stan Wawrinka, Kei Nishikori and Andy Murray on his way to Barcelona and Monte Carlo title have seen many claim that Nadal is back to his best. Looking at the results it seems hard to disagree, with just two sets dropped in his last 10 matches, one to Murray and secondly to Gael Monfils after which Nadal would win the next set 6-0 to take the Monte Carlo trophy.
What will the rest of 2016 hold?
Over the next two weeks, Nadal will look to cement himself back amongst the top five as he looks to defend his final points from Madrid and his disappointing third round points from Rome. The ultimate challenge facing Nadal is of course, world number one Novak Djokovic who has won the last six matches against Nadal without dropping one set. However in their last match, the Spaniard matched Djokovic shot for shot, that was at least in the first set before the Serb strolled through the second set. If they were to meet in Madrid or Rome then we are sure to get a proper indication of where Nadal's game is right now. With Djokovic sure to be the favourite if they were to face, whilst a win for Nadal would announce to the tennis world he back, even so much as a set would be encouraging for Nadal given how their recent matches have gone.
There is nothing more that would announce his return to the top more than another French Open trophy and even moreso if he was to beat Djokovic in the final and as it stands it is the Serb who will head into Roland Garros as the favourite. However the next two weeks will be the perfect Litmus test as to whether Nadal can lift 'La Decima'. One thing is for sure, if he manages to live a trophy over the next three tournaments then it will be an improvement on what was a miserable season for him last year.
Success away from the clay?
Looking beyond Roland Garros there is plenty of room for Nadal to improve on recent years. The obvious candidate for improvement is of course the grass season which has caused him so many issues recently. After establishing himself as one of the best grass court players including what many consider the greatest tennis match of all time as he beat Roger Federer in the 2008 Wimbledon final, the grass surface has caused him nothing but issues with his last quarter final appearance at Wimbledon coming in 2011. With losses against Steve Darcis and Lukas Rosol in early rounds, it remains to be seen whether he can be a force on grass again. However as has proven ever so true for Nadal in his career is that he is capable of the unlikely and has shown time and time again he is capable of anything.