Rafa Nadal’s slide down the ATP rankings means if he wins a record-extending 10th French Open title early next month it would go down as one of the greatest achievements of his illustrious career.
The Spaniard dropped three places to seventh on Monday as a consequence of his 6-3 6-2 drubbing at the hands of Britain’s Andy Murray in the final of the Madrid Masters the previous day.
And with another 600 points to defend at this week Rome Masters, the 28-year-old could fall to his lowest ranking for 10 years by the time play begins at Roland Garros on May 24.
Not since April 2005, just before his maiden French title, has Nadal been lower than seventh.
The Spaniard insisted after losing to Murray that he was beginning to feel the “old sensations” again after struggling to find his best form in the wake of the wrist injury and appendicitis issues that undermined him last year.
But the fear factor that once inhibited opponents on the red clay appears to have disappeared.
In Monte Carlo, he was soundly beaten by world number one Novak Djokovic. He then lost to Italy’s unpredictable Fabio Fognini in Barcelona and in Madrid, after appearing to be getting back on track with wins against Grigor Dimitrov and Tomas Berdych, he was stopped in his tracks by Murray.
Murray had never beaten Nadal on clay and was thrashed in last year’s French Open semi-final, but on Sunday he won with nonchalant ease.
“I will just stay with the good things that happened this week, and there are a lot of them, more good than bad. I will try to recover the good feelings in Rome,” Nadal said.
“Whatever will happen will be. It’s something that we have to realise, all of us, that what’s happening during these last years, it’s very complicated to be 10 or one years without leaving the top four.”
Barring an early loss in Rome, Nadal should manage to stay in the top eight but the possibility of a quarter-final meeting with Murray, Djokovic or world number two Roger Federer looms.
Unlike Wimbledon, where ATP rankings can be adjusted to reflect performances on grass, the French Open sticks stringently to the rankings.
And while that does not look good for Nadal, it will also worry the likes of Djokovic and Murray, who could find themselves coming face-to-face with the greatest claycourt player of all time a little earlier than expected.