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Nadal's Dominance On Clay: Can Anyone Stop Him?
Sunday, 05/06/2018
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Anyone with the slightest interest in Tennis is likely to have heard of the name Rafael Nadal and understandably so. Whether known through his apparent penchant for injuries during training, or because of his incredible history as a clay competitor in Tennis tournaments worldwide, his name is practically a household name. Throughout recent seasons and beyond, Nadal has dominated the clay court, health permitting, and is proving to be impossible to beat. Practically unstoppable when in good health and on a clay court, it has us all asking this: Can anyone stop Nadal? For fans, Nadal’s wins are much-celebrated but for those looking for an unpredictable game, we’ve decided to explore just why Nadal dominates on the clay court, and who might stand a chance at beating him in future matches.

A History: Nadal, like most sports professionals nowadays, was passionate about all things sporty from a very young age. He used to play football and tennis, though as he grew older, he decided to focus more on the latter. This, of course, led to a successful career that really started when he helped bring the Spanish national team to victory at the Davis Cup in 2004. It wasn’t until 2006 that he established himself professionally, however, with a win of Roland Garros at the French Open which really boosted his fame, despite having first won the Open in 2003.

His career since has seen 4 Davis Cup victories, 14 Grand Slams and 2 Olympic gold medals, and in 2016, he even inaugurated the Rafa Nadal Academy by Movistar. This Academy is where he, and other knowledgeable experts, spend time teaching children and adults about the world of tennis, using the same or similar training methods which Nadal learnt when he started his career.

So, Why Is Nadal So Dominant On Clay? Despite Murray and Federer sitting up with Nadal as some of the top male players in the Tennis industry, there’s no denying that Rafa is dominant above them all when it comes to a clay court. The question is, however, if he’s so prone to injuries, how is this possible? Well, first we have to look at why he’s good on clay at all:

  • His Upbringing – Nadal grew up in Manacor in Spain, meaning that he feels at home on the dusty dirt-like surface of a clay court.
  • His Injuries – Due to his week knee, clay courts are much easier on it due to their inherent soft nature. Harder courts tend to see a rougher, more painful mode of play for Nadal, and so he not only feels better on clay (and subsequently grass), but he tends to practice on these softer courts too.
  • Clay Courts Mean Slower Play – Granted, a clay court doesn’t slow down the game by much, but it gives Nadal enough opportunity to position for a forehand rather than his weaker backhand. He gets more time to take those powerful shots that his competitors struggle so much to keep up with.
Of course, we are then faced with the question of just why Nadal is so dominant in the game at all. Between his gameplay, the limitations clay courts can put on other players and the simple fact that he’s just good can all make up for his dominance. Some of the reasons are as follows:
  • Hard Hitting Is Less Of A Focus – Due to the slower nature of clay court games, the game revolves far more about returning and retrieving the ball than simply hitting hard so your opponent misses. Nadal has proven time and time again that he is an amazing defender, perhaps one of the best Tennis has ever seen and so, of course, playing against inferior defenders makes dominating for Nadal easy.
  • Spin Play – Top spin shots are one of Rafa’s most utilized hits, and understandably so – especially when you consider that under spin shots tend to stay lower on clay or grass. Nadal’s top spins are lethal for those on the other side of the net, to the point where they tend to kick so high that normal attacks are pretty much impossible.
  • Nadal Makes Less Mistakes – On a clay court, not only is the gameplay slower, but he also has a lot more experience in playing on a clay court. He can play on and on and on, showing perseverance and a lot of patience that most of his competitors don’t have. Through clinical, error-free play, a competitor might stand a chance at beating him, but it could come down to wearing him out before they tire out themselves.
Who Could Beat Him In The Future? The list of people who have the potential to beat Rafa Nadal isn’t exactly extensive, but there are still players out there who stand a chance – namely Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer. Both players have shown their own skill on clay courts, but whether it’s quite good enough for beating Nadal is up for debate. That being said, Djokovic has beaten Nadal in the past, specifically at Roland Garros in 2015 and again in August 2017, though these don’t come close to Nadal’s winning streak. With a rivalry with Federer to consider too, we’re looking at both here:
  • Novak Djokovic: Djokavic’s style of play is one that can go up against Nadal and actually stand a chance at winning. Though not the strongest player on clay either, he’s still come up against Nadal and given him five defeats overall so he is, of course, still a favourite to stop Nadal’s winning streak yet again.
  • Roger Federer: Federer isn’t actually strongest on clay, but given that he’s good at literally everything else, we tend to look on his clay court play as ‘mediocre’ when the reality is that, actually, he’s one of the best on clay regardless. His aggressive style of play doesn’t always hold up well against Nadal, but their ongoing rivalry isn’t there without a reason! Nadal and Federer make a good competing pair, especially when on a clay court.
Whether anyone will come to stop Nadal is all a matter of skill, Nadal’s health at time of play and a whole host of other factors to take into consideration. Clay can prove to be a difficult surface to play on, but with Rafael Nadal dominating it with such ease, you certainly wouldn’t think so!