Rafael Nadal: the greatest clay court tennis player in history

This year’s French Open is only confirming that which has slowly emerged to be undeniable fact in the past seven years; no one has ever been better than Rafa on the red clay of Europe. Photo: Associated Press

CHICAGO, June 4, 2012 – Playing tennis on clay requires a level of physicality that is seldom matched in any other sport. Every point requires you to slug the ball as hard as you can ten or fifteen times, and you can’t win a match without doing that well over a hundred times in the span of three hours or so. So it should come to no surprise that it takes a stunning physique to dominate the surface like no other, yet Rafael Nadal still continues to inspire all who watch his dazzling display of lefty scrappiness.

This man, first of all, is fast. Breathtakingly fast, the kind of speed that can genuinely puzzle you as you watch. At any moment on the clay, Nadal’s opponent could smash a ball that would be a winner against almost anyone else, only to see it sliced back without much trouble. That’s just devastating to any opponent of his, the fact that they often have to win a point three times just to win it once. Combine that with clay’s naturally slow bounce and you have an extremely burly brick wall that can’t be bashed down.

Nadal’s gifts don’t end there; he was also lucky enough at a young age to be able to hit a forehand with his left hand as opposed to his dominant right. In tennis, being a southpaw is a gigantic advantage, with every ball you send over the net having the opposite spin that is normally seen, throwing off, timing, tempers, and everything in between.

What makes this feat more impressive, and elevates Nadal’s dominance over that of Bjorn Borg’s, is the level of physicality that the game has reached over the past several years. Tennis is no longer a game of finesse, but one of brute power, swinging as hard as you can at the ball to generate enough spin so that you can swing even harder at the next ball you see. The fact that Nadal has the stamina to take on the beatings offered to him by six-foot six-inch giants such as Juan Martin del Potro is a wonder in itself.

Other than his one lone hiccup at Roland Garros in a loss to Robin Soderling, Nadal has never once lost at that major. Never. He’s played Roger Federer four times in the finals, the greatest grand slam player of all time mind you, and he dropped a grand total of three sets. That’s twelve sets to three over the course of four matches: complete domination, in other words. One of those finals, a rather hyped matchup, ended with a final score of 6-1, 6-3, 6-0. While Federer may be the best overall player of the generation (which is still arguable), there’s no doubt that nobody dominates a surface like Rafa on clay.

So as you watch this week’s final rounds of the French Open, know that the only chance of witnessing a noteworthy event is if you see the Mallorcan Matador somehow fall on his own turf.

Just don’t count on it.

To contact Nick Goralka, see above to send him an e-mail containing a question, comment, or scathing insult. His work appears in Alley-oops for Touchdowns! and That Liberal Pinko in the Communities at the Washington Times Online.

 


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Nicholas Goralka

Nick Goralka is a sports enthusiast with eclectic interests. In addition to cheering on and suffering along with his Chicago teams, Nick is a competitively-ranked tennis player, enjoys debating real versus imaginary numbers in mathematical functions, and is a trumpet soloist in his Jazz ensemble which has performed throughout Chicago and for Mayor Rahm Emmanuel and Vice President Joe Biden at a recent charity fundraiser.  

Nick is still in high school, steadily working his way through his Statistics class, and learning more and more every day about analyzing the sports that he loves.

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