Following the arrival of Novak Djokovic and recurrent injury problems, we ask, can Rafa Nadal make it back to the top of the Men’s game and go on to Grand Slam Success in 2012?

Just 12 months ago Rafa Nadal was comfortably sat at the top of the World, with a clay court season ahead of him and a real challenge to get his teeth into, in the shape of the ever-improving Serbian, Novak Djokovic. 

Yes, Djokovic had beaten the Spaniard in the finals of Indian Wells and Miami, but Nadal could be relied upon to rise to any challenge. He’d put the Serbian in his place on the clay courts of Europe, before reasserting his authority on the grass and topping things off with back-to-back US Open titles. 

Rafal NadalUnfortunately for Rafa, none of the above materialised. Twice more Nadal fell to Djokovic in finals, only this time on the clay inRome and Madrid. Whilst he did claim a Masters 1000 title in Monte Carlo and successfully defended the French Open in Paris, Djokoivc missed the Monte Carlo event and was defeated by Federer in the French. By the time the pair met in the final atWimbledon, Djokovic had won four finals in succession across 2011 and the confidence seemed to drain from the Spaniard as the Serbian superstar stormed to success and took Rafa’s spot at the top of men’s tennis with him. 

Nadal has not won a Masters 1000 event since Monte Carlo in 2011, and will be coming up on 12 months without a Grand Slam when he pitches up in Paris next month. 

Add to all that the concerns over his fitness and it’s clear to see why many in the game are wondering not only if Rafa Nadal will ever regain his No.1 spot, but even questioning if indeed he even has another Grand Slam in him. 

Confidence

Nadal’s confidence cannot be high at the moment. The seven top-class finals in succession, he has lost to Djokovic have hurt, and with each subsequent beating you can see the belief fading from the Spaniard. After a disastrous 2011 match-up series with Djokovic, you sensed Nadal was ready to begin his comeback in the Aussie Open final in January. He’d been working on a way to defeat the Serb and how close did he come to doing it. The problem is that despite playing one of the matches of his life, to reach a position where he was deep into the deciding set, with a break of serve to his name, Djokovic still came back and won, and no matter how super-human the Serbinator’s efforts were that night in Melbourne, Nadal will feel he threw the match away and the confidence will have taken yet another massive blow. 

Fitness

It’s not like Nadal to pull out of any match before he’s even stepped out on the court, so when he did exactly that in the Miami semi-finals last week, you have to look at it and worry for his long-term fitness.

After having a month off in February, we expected to see Rafa roar back in the US, but a limp semi-final defeat to Federer in California followed by his withdrawal in Miami, suggest there are potentially some serious physical problems and the knee looks to be the weak point.

Rafa may only be 25 but he has to work so hard on the court that his body has undertaken far more strain than a Roger Federer who appears to have spent his career gliding around the arenas, gracefully winning Grand Slams!

There is certainly a big question mark over how long Rafa can continue punishing his body and still win the biggest prizes in the game. 

Ability

One important thing to remember is that Nadal was there in the finals to meet Novak Djokovic time after time last year, and in Melbourne this year. He may have been defeated each time but his consistency in reaching the showpiece finales point to a massive improvement in the performances of the Serb rather than any major regressions from the Spaniard.

When Djokovic finally did slip up in the French Open last June, Rafa was there in the final to meet Federer and take full advantage of the Djoker’s elimination.

The ability Nadal always had is still there, but it won’t be enough to consistently upset the new World No1. So as he always has done, Rafa is going to have to work harder and improve his abilities.

Will Rafa win more Grand Slams?

It’s almost unthinkable that Rafael Nadal would fail to win another Slam across the remainder of his career. He came so tantalisingly close to winning the Australian Open in January and the very next Slam up represents a chance to win his seventh title in Paris. For the first time in many years, Rafa may not be the favourite to win the event from the outset, but Djokovic will be coming in under so much pressure to try and hold all four Slams at the same time, the psychological pendulum between the two could well swing back in the Spaniard’s favour.

Will Rafa regain the World No.1 spot?

This is a much tougher question to answer. Firstly, it’s going to depend very much on the abilities of Novak Djokovic to maintain the stupidly high standards he’s been displaying for the last 18 months. If the Serb goes through a prolonged bad spell or misses a period through injury, then there’s no question that Nadal can find his way back to the top of the game. 

Whether Nadal can make it back to World No.1 for a sustained period is an entirely different matter. The fitness troubles may result in him having to really prioritise the big events, not putting himself under so much strain away from the Slams. With the other top men all looking more driven than ever to succeed in the ‘lesser’ events, it’s unlikely Nadal could amass the points needed to cement a place at the top of the game. 

Rafa Nadal may be only 25 but he has won the lot. It was felt he could never overcome Roger at Wimbledon and many believed he didn’t have the game to succeed in New York. Rafa did both, but it has come at a physical expense. 

I expect to see Nadal going all out for all the remaining Slams this year, and it wouldn’t come as a huge shock if he won them all. He was runner up in the same three events last year after all.

If however, he doesn’t pick up a Slam in 2012 and injury continues to bother him, I think we may see the Spaniard move back to what he knows best and focus his greatest efforts on clay court success. 

Rafa Nadal -  Grand Slam Tennis Odds 2012

French – Evens

Wimbledon – 4/1

US – 3/1