Rafael Nadal lays down marker for French Open title defence, one forehand bullet at a time

We've all heard the refrain that Rafael Nadal's down-the-line forehand is the biggest barometer of his confidence. You know he is feeling good about his game when he is blasting those curling missiles that leave even the quickest retrievers flat-footed.

But is the potency of his down-the-line forehand the effect of his confidence, or the cause of it? Most would say it is the former, but at the Rome Masters this week it may have been the reverse.

When Nadal took the court for his semi-final match against Stefanos Tsitsipas, the dark clouds hanging over his claycourt form hadn't completely dissipated. Sure he had handed out a bagel in each of his first three matches of the tournament, but the opponents he had faced – Jeremy Chardy, Nikoloz Basilasvhili and a fatigued Fernando Verdasco – hadn't really pushed the World No 2 to bring out his best tennis.

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