How quick so-called observers of tennis are to jump on a player who may have had a run of outs early in tournaments. At times it can almost be as if the Doomsday Book is getting a reprint, especially if the player is one of the most prominent the sport has seen.
Rafa Nadal is one of those players who can be placed under the microscope if he loses a couple of matches on clay. Certainly, it is a surprise when the greatest clay court player who ever lived loses a match on that surface, but the guy is also human.
He has won 60 titles on clay out of his 86 career titles and his win-loss record on clay is a staggering 447-41 for a .916 success rate after the recent Rolex Monte Carlo Masters.
Nadal has a routine with tournaments he plays; just as he has a routine of tucking stray strands of hair behind his ears, or precisely placing his drink bottles on the court or pulling his underpants out of you know where.
He likes to play the Rolex Monte Carlo Masters, the Barcelona Open, Madrid Masters, the Internazionali BNL d’Italia in Roma and Roland Garros in Paris – the most important event of his career. For the record, his collection of spoils at these events is: Monte Carlo 11 titles, Barcelona 11 titles, Madrid 4 titles (from when it went to clay in 2009), Rome 9 titles and French Open 13 titles.
“I am excited. I love to play on clay, too - but I love to be in Monte Carlo, Barcelona, Madrid, Rome, Roland Garros/Paris. I love these events. Of course, it will not be the same without the typical atmosphere,” Nadal said.
“At the same time, I will have the chance to play in places that I know very well, places that I have a great story with every single event, yeah. For me, that's important, no? Just happy to enjoy another experience, yeah, another opportunity for me to compete in these historic places of our sport.”
Since making his debut in 2003, at these four specific lead-in events to the French Open and then Roland Garros, Nadal has lost just 15 times at these tournaments, during the spring, (most recently, at the time of writing, Monte Carlo) before the semi-finals. While he has not achieved a clean sweep of the spring clay events, seven times he has won four of the five tournaments. It should be remembered in 2016 his effort at Roland Garros ended in the round of 32 but because he withdrew before a ball was hit against Marcel Granollers, it is not counted as a loss.
“It has been such an important tournament for me during all my tennis career. Always sad to lose (in Monte Carlo), because it's an important one for me. I missed an opportunity to start the clay court season in the right way,” Nadal said after losing to Andrey Rublev.
“But that's it. I can't complain. It's not the moment to complain. When you are not able to do the things you had to do on the court, then is not the moment to complain after, no? The only thing that I can do is go to Barcelona and keep practicing, keep practicing, try to fix the things that didn't work well.”
In 2019 tennis watchers were starting to write him off when he did not go beyond the semis at Monte Carlo, Barcelona, and Madrid. Some even suggested his run at Roland Garros was under major threat. How wrong they were – he beat Novak Djokovic handily in the Rome final and then took out Dominic Thiem in the French final.
Crazily people were overlooking him in a similar way they hound players about retirement plans (that will be the subject of an up-coming story on wearetennis.com). You would think the so-called observers of tennis might know better than to overlook Rafa Nadal on red clay, especially is the springtime.
In Paris he remains the leading favourite for a 14th title even if he does not win any of the clay events beforehand.
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