“King of Clay” Peaking Nicely

… I was serving well, at a good speed, and changing directions well, I had the chance to hit my forehand after my serve and take control of the rallies. Rafael Nadal after his fourth round match in Barcelona on April 27

Nadal has his eyes on the prize in Paris

By Roger Childs

Spaniard Rafael (Rafa) Nadal is the world’s best ever clay court tennis player. He holds the incredible record of nine grand slam wins on the orange dust at Roland Garros. The next best is Bjorn Borg with six.

Unfortunately in 2015 and 2016 Rafa was plagued with injuries, so his last win in Paris was 2014.

But now he’s back, and keen to get that tenth clay title in early June. He has been in four finals so far this year and lost three.

However earlier in the month, back on clay, he won the Monte Carlo final. And now in Barcelona he is through to the quarter finals.

A tenacious and powerful player

Winning in Paris: one of nine victories!

Coached by his uncle, the inscrutable Toni Nadal, Rafa is a very disciplined player with a never say die attitude.

He does not have the variety of Federer’s game or as fast a serve, but has powerful ground strokes and a great placement instinct for producing winners.

He also possesses breathtaking mobility, which enabled him to retrieve seemingly impossible returns and often runs round his backhand to hit powerful, tightly angled forehands beyond the reach of his opponent.

Challenging the Swiss maestro

Rafael Nadal won his first French Open in 2005 and then in the three following years. But could he win the big ones on surfaces other than clay? Yes he could! In 2008 he met Roger Federer in the Wimbledon final, and in what many consider to be the greatest match of all time Nadal won 6-4. 6-4, 6-7, 6-7, 9-7.

Federer wins in Melbourne over Nadal

Then, in the next two years he proved his versatility by winning the Australian and United States Opens, as well as Wimbledon again. Could he be the man to eclipse Federer’s record of 16 grand slams?

His ninth win in Paris in 2014 took him to 14 top titles and the experts were speculating that the Swiss maestro would not win any more. However, Federer confounded the critics by beating Andy Murray to take the Wimbledon title in 2012.

Fast forward 5 years to 2017, and Roger Federer, at the age of 35, won the Australian Open to make it 18 big ones. Who was his opponent: none other than his old rival, Rafael Nadal.

 2017 the old hands are back!

Having both been out with injuries late in 2016, Federer and Nadal rejoined the tour with rankings in the teens. In their comeback tournaments in January Fed went out early in Perth and it was the same for Rafa in Brisbane.

Following his success in Melbourne, Federer has gone on to win the American sunshine tournaments in Indian Wells and Miami. In all three he beat Nadal.

World number one Andy Murray

However Rafa is back on his favourite clay surface, and with Monte Carlo under his belt and advancing through the rounds in Barcelona, he is rising in the rankings. He is now number 5 just behind Federer on 4.

Federer has not featured in Monte Carlo or Barcelona, but is biding his time. He is likely to play in Paris, so it will be fascinating to see if he comes up against Nadal.

However, The King of Clay is building nicely for Paris, however he won’t have it all his own way. As well as Federer, there will be last year’s winner Novak Djokovic and the 2015 title holder Stan Wawrinka in the tournament, plus world number one, Andy Murray.

It promises to be a great grand slam!