April 26th, 2011
04:52 PM ET

Is Nadal's clay domination good for tennis?

Rafael Nadal gets his teeth into his sixth Barcelona Open crown.
Rafael Nadal gets his teeth into his sixth Barcelona Open crown.

Another clay-court tournament, another win for Rafael Nadal.

This part of the tennis season is becoming all too predictable, with the world number one hoovering up titles in Monte Carlo and now Barcelona with imperious ease for the loss of just one set.

It was his seventh straight title in Monaco, a record which will take some beating, and sixth in seven years in the Catalan capital.

Until Rafa burst onto the scene in 2004, the clay-court swing - which culminates in the French Open at the end of May - was marked by its unpredictability, with the rankings turned upside down as specialists on the red stuff enjoyed their moment in the sun.

Gustavo "Guga" Kuerten, Albert Costa, Juan Carlos Ferrero and Gaston Gaudio claimed the crown at Roland Garros in the immediate years before Nadal first won in 2005.

The big-servers like Pete Sampras would swiftly gain revenge at Wimbledon, but clay provided the less physically gifted a more level playing surface where sheer determination and touch or artistry could go a long way.

Not anymore. Nadal is a brute of a player, who snuffs out resistance and leaves his opponents defenseless.

His game is made for clay, with a deceptive service backed up by crushing groundstrokes, most imparted with the heaviest top spin in the game. His legendary physical strength means he can hit all-out winners from parts of the court, and he can run forever.

Nadal's domination at the French Open was only halted by debilitating knee injuries which saw him lose in the fourth round in 2009 to Robin Soderling, but he returned in 2010 to mop up his fifth title and few would bet against him making it six later this month.

Before that come Masters 1,000 events in Madrid and Rome where he gets the chance to increase his lead at the top of the world rankings from Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer.

But perhaps salvation is at hand for tennis fans growing tired of the same old winner, likeable though the "King of Clay" most certainly is.

Djokovic has begun 2011 as a man on a mission, racking up 24 straight wins, claiming the Australian Open crown and the Masters 1,000 events at Indian Wells and Miami, beating Nadal in both U.S. hard-court finals.

He talks of repeating the dose on clay, but so did Federer, who for all his genius had to wait until Nadal was sidelined in 2009 to take his only French Open crown.

Djokovic is a wonderful player and blessed with a new self-confidence, but beating Nadal on clay over five sets will be some ask.

Neutrals will be willing him all the way and hoping the likes of Andy Murray, who surprised everyone and probably himself by taking that set off Nadal in the Monte Carlo semis, can also step up to the plate.

But don't hold your breath.

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Filed under:  Tennis
soundoff (24 Responses)
  1. Ben

    Thank you for this article but you did not really answer your own question, did you ? 🙂
    I believe some other perspectives should be added to your article :
    – Federer and Sampras' grass domination were impressive as well, but the grass season is shorter...
    – What is fantastic with Nadal is that he could have been satisfied with his clay domination, but he worked a lot to extend his domination on other surfaces. So tennis fans should be reminded that what is unique is not only Nadal's results on clay but the way such a clay specialist did to adapt his game to other surfaces.
    Sorry that my English is not perfect.
    Ben from France

    April 26, 2011 at 7:16 pm | Reply
  2. atif

    ben i totally agree with u.the way nadal has adapted to grass and hard courts so quickly is phenomenal.his ability to grind out results even when he is not at his best is just remarkable

    April 26, 2011 at 10:23 pm | Reply
  3. florentine


    Which other surfaces are we talking about ? Have you ever heard of standardization ?

    To put it bluntly, I'd rather say that other surfaces have adapted to Nadal's game if you see what I mean

    April 26, 2011 at 10:33 pm | Reply
  4. PHD

    Oh I was not aware that everyone should get a chance to win a clay tennis tournament. Then by all means let's enforce a rule that states if a player wins more than four times at any clay tournament then he is banned from playing for at least two years. That would allow others a chance to win in the interim. Why stop at clay, the rule should be imposed on all tournaments. Hey "puffy boy" were you complaining when Roger Almighty was winning all those years on grass. I bet not; you were probably kissing his highness' ....

    April 26, 2011 at 11:00 pm | Reply
  5. Denis

    You state in your article, "but clay provided the less physically gifted a more level playing surface..." I beg to differ with this claim, sir. If anything, clay court tennis demands that a player be physically gifted for him to be succesful. Clay court tennis is where is at.

    April 26, 2011 at 11:39 pm | Reply
  6. gino

    his brand of tennis,boring for game of tennis,his cheating,really bad for tennis,his azz picking and sweating,reallyreally bad, his using ped,s really disgusting,tennis federation nows this, yet does nothing.disgrace....... novak will get him on clay.

    April 27, 2011 at 12:06 am | Reply
  7. Kim

    It's a matter of perspective.

    In the U.S., before Nadal, the question was, "There's a clay court season?" With Nadal's dominance, the question has become, "Why can't Americans win on clay?"

    From this perspective, Nadal's clay domination has leveled the playing field(s) – hard, grass, and clay – in the minds of most American tennis fans.

    That's quite an accomplishment – and very good for tennis!

    April 27, 2011 at 3:53 am | Reply
  8. Tuckyjoe

    Absolutely! Nadal's clay domination is good for tennis. He is the icon, the man to beat - a measure of how good you are on clay if you will. We are interested in people who are always on top of their games. Like Tiger Woods until he messed up; M. Jordan, Pele; Messi; etc.

    April 27, 2011 at 4:31 am | Reply
  9. midsun

    Did you feel the same when Federer was chomping up every title there was until a young Spandiard came along to challenge him? Nadal is merely doing what he's supposed to do when he enters a tournament - try to win it. Which, I suspect, he will continue to do until another player steps up to the plate like he did against Fed. And... Sure, Rafa's game is power-centric, but there is also artistry.

    April 27, 2011 at 4:43 am | Reply
  10. Teddy

    Madrid Masters should answer some of the following questions: can Djoko challenge Nadal for Roland Garros? Is Federer counting on others knocking those two "big guns" out to repeat his 2009 success (can disprove this by beating Djoko and/ or Nadal)? Is Murray a realistic clay court threat after his impressive second set against Nadal in Monte Carlo ?

    And what of the nearly-man, Soderling - a two time beaten finalist, but not in great form. Can he challenge again? Only other outside the top-four threat (on clay) is realistically Del Potro, but he's also off peak form, obviously, though haven't seen him for a while, maybe he's ready to rumble again.

    And Ferrer... he could also take advantage of a "Nadal-free final" but he wouldn't beat Nadal (unless like in Aus Nadal is injured).

    It has Dojok-Nadal in the final written all over it - will be fascinating to see the Serb have a go at Nadal.

    I think Nadal and this is RELATIVELY speaking is not at his imperious best despite two straight titles and only losing a set. I think - just an opinion - Djoko can take him on clay and may very well do.

    April 27, 2011 at 5:30 am | Reply
  11. Tak

    Yes, it's great for tennis. It's about time we have a King on a few surfaces. Nadal is the best thing tennis have going on in years.

    April 27, 2011 at 7:17 am | Reply
  12. Sachiko

    Nadal clay dominance has been pretty incredible, doesn't matter whether it's good or not for tennis. Nobody seems to be able to stop him but we can always learn from past, history tells Nadal surely has Achilles' heel on dirt. I think Nadal has two enemies, one is the opponent who has completely attacking style. Robin Soderling's precious win at Roland Garros 2009, dubbed "upset of decade", shouldn't be fazed by Nadal's injury, Soderling made torrential attacks which wore down Nadal. Also I recall Ernests Gulbis in 2010 Rome who pushed Nadal to the limit with a shower of killing offense and hammering. Davydenko in Rome 2007 was also like that. Nadal shows a glimpse of frailty with these type of opponent. Maybe Andy Murray in Monte-Carlo this year gives a hint to rest of players designing strategy for Nadal.

    But Nadal's worst enemy on dirt is, of course, himself. it's easy to imagine he will collect an array of wins in Madrid and Rome as previous two weeks heading to Paris, one concern is that could physically be Pyrrhic victories. otherwise nothing will stop him lifting 6th Coupe des Mousquetaires.

    April 27, 2011 at 4:02 pm | Reply
  13. FloridaTao

    It's only good for the game for a certain number of years. After a while, I really do prefer some diversity in terms of players winning slams...I am a little tired of slam winners being Nadal or Federer all the time. I am glad that, at least for the time being, Djokovic changed that by winning the Aus open.

    April 28, 2011 at 12:17 am | Reply
  14. Jason

    Nadal's winning experience will surely five a inspiration about how a specialist player in one kind of condition can extend his influence in some kinds of relative area. and really dominate all his opponents from the first miniute to the end of end.

    April 28, 2011 at 8:19 am | Reply
  15. medveduga

    congratulations, great was set. looking not looking!

    April 28, 2011 at 1:16 pm | Reply
  16. Karin Burgess

    If there is someone we never tire of watching it's Rafael Nadal. His talent and humble nature are admirable and so there is no feeling of fatigue in watching Rafa dominate. His time will come as it has (or so it appears) for Roger Federer. Nadal is truly one of the modern game's greats. 30 years from now we'll see anniversary books written about Nadal as they are now about Björn Borg. Each are the tennis Adonis of an era.

    April 28, 2011 at 2:15 pm | Reply
  17. Janeykc

    No one can be always dominative in tennis. Nadal has to keep working hard to maintain his clay domination; meanwhile his domination will push other players to work harder to beat him on clay. Every player has to show their best on the court to become dominant, and it's good for tennis and tennis fans because we can watch fierce competitions.

    April 28, 2011 at 3:08 pm | Reply
  18. ds

    Absolutely. If others act the way he does off court and on, then I will continue to be a tennis fan all my life.

    April 28, 2011 at 6:18 pm | Reply
  19. michael anakwe

    this is simply the phase of a phenomenon. the game of tennis like every other sport, experience these moments of 'magic' or extraordinary artistry or athletism from a particular athlete/player. in tennis we had the near mystical dominance of sampras,agassi, mcenroe,steffi graf,williams sisters etc; in basketball the sporting world witness magical displays of magic jonhson, jordan for chicago bulls; likewise the Godlike dominance of tiger woods-golf;schumacher-ferrari; armstrong-cycling; carl lewis and m.johnson-athletics...these acts seems like forever...but come and become loving histories

    April 29, 2011 at 11:21 pm | Reply
  20. Wale Ajao

    Rafael "Nemesis" Nadal dominance on clay is good for the game. Legend like Bjon Bjorg did that and on other surface to. It will only cement a place for the spainard among all time greats. Go boy go, sky isn't your limit.

    May 6, 2011 at 10:43 am | Reply
  21. m.a.a.

    rafael nadal he is the best player in tinnes you will injoy to wathc him

    May 8, 2011 at 10:35 am | Reply
  22. Alex N

    Djokovic Champion of Madrid!

    May 8, 2011 at 8:17 pm | Reply
  23. Kevin

    Less physically gifted. The reason Sampras never won the French was because he was less physically gifted and didn't have the endurance or patience to grind out and orchestrate points.

    You contradict the very point you make by saying that Nadal is so dominant on clay beause of his physicallity.

    You have no business writing about a sport you don't even understand. Shut the hell up and give this job to someone who actually cares about this sport and go write about Little League Cricket. That's more your speed.

    May 11, 2011 at 11:59 pm | Reply
  24. R4L

    Even if Nadal's reign on clay may be slightly halted, Novak will never garner the affection that Nadal and Federer have achieved throughout this sport. Though Novak has improved greatly over the past two years, unfortunately, he lacks charm and humility. He can be obnoxious and he needs to rise of above the thuggery display of his Serbian fans to demonstrate intergrity and class. Rafa and Roger will always be the draw for tennis fans. Any final without them is a bit of let down and either one vs Novak will always be the FAN favorite.

    May 12, 2011 at 9:25 pm | Reply

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