The achievements that Rafael Nadal has had in the last four months have been incredible. The Spaniard has reached the final in all seven events he has played and has won five titles after being out for seven months. He has been the best player on tour since he began his comeback. However, the world No. 5 has a long way to go before he is back to the form he was at when he defeated Novak Djokovic in the 2012 Roland Garros final.
Nadal may have a record of 31-2 on the year, but Nadal still hasn’t been able to overcome any major challenges. His biggest challenge this year was facing Djokovic in the Monte Carlo final. It was his first rematch with his rival since 2012, so it was the first chance to see how far along Nadal was in his path back to his 2012 form. It was a disappointing match for Nadal, losing in straight sets to the world No. 1. Aside from the match against Djokovic, Nadal has had very weak opponents. For the most part, Nadal couldn’t have asked for an easier list of opponents.
In the six other finals Nadal competed in, the average ranking of his opponent was 34. Even some of his semifinal matchups were against shockingly low-ranked opponents. Both Pablo Andujar and Martin Alund were ranked outside of the top 100 when Nadal defeated them.
Also, six of the tournaments that Nadal played on were on clay, which does not test his knee the same way a hard court does. Nadal did play in one hard court tournament in Indian Wells, but he had to skip the hard court tournament in Miami the following week. In order to return to No. 1 in the world, Nadal can afford to skip every other hard court tournament from August to November. When Nadal competes in two hard court tournaments in two weeks without showing signs of problems with his knees will be a huge sign that he has come back.
During the last four months, the Spaniard has been able to dodge the other players in the “Big Four.” His only win against a player in the top three in the world was against a slumping Roger Federer in Indian Wells. Over the past three years, the requirement to win a major is to beat two of the players in the “Big Four.” Defeated two of the top players in one week will be another milestone that Nadal has to achieve en route to a complete comeback.
Nadal is still one of the greatest players in the world and deserves credit for immediately finding success after being out of the sport for seven months. However, it is still too soon to start making Nadal a favorite at one of the slams. ATP Masters Series 1000 Rome will be a good challenge for Nadal as he is expected to face both David Ferrer and Djokovic before the final. If Nadal can reach the final in Rome, then it will be okay to start calling him the favorite for Roland Garros.