By Obaid ur Rehman.
World of tennis has seen many greats in the last couple of decades naming few of them are Rod Laver, Bjorn Borg, Pete Samparas, Andre Aggassi, Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic. The tennis players, courts are familiar of. But there is one man who ruled a particular surface, a man who has outclassed every opponent during his peak, be it Roger Federer or Novak Djokovic. A man who is widely regarded as the greatest Clay-Court player in history, a man who is known as the King of Clay, he is none other than the Spanish Matador, Rafael Nadal. Rafael Nadal has won 14 Grand Slam Singles-Titles (a record tied with Pete Samparas), the second most after Roger Federer who has won 17 Grand Slam Singles-Titles.
Rafael Nadal is an only player in an Open Era to have won a Career Golden Slam, by winning all four Grand Slams, Australian Open (2009), French Open (2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014), Wimbledon (2008, 2010), US Open (2010, 2013) and a Gold Medal in Singles in Beijing Olympics 2008. Nadal has won 28 titles in ATP World Tour Masters 1000 Events and 17 ATP World Tour 500 Tournaments (a record tied with Roger Federer).
Whenever his name is being called, our mind directs towards the Red Clay. Being a winner of 49 Singles-Tiles out of 69 on Clay surface only, Rafael Nadal has ruled like the King of Kings, the record which Nadal will be holding definitely for decades. Rafael Nadal’s evolution into an all-court threat and his domination on clay has established and made him as one of the greatest players in tennis history. Rafael Nadal is also often regarded as “Greatest Of All Times (G.O.A.T.)”. Roger Federer has record 17 Grand Slam Titles on his name and Rafael Nadal has 14. Both of these players have played the greatest of their era. But talking about Head to Head record then Nadal is far ahead of Federer by 23-11, a major reason critics consider Nadal as the G.O.A.T., but yet the final word is undecided.
French Open which is also known as Roland Garros, is the second of four annual Grand Slam Tournaments. French Open is the only Clay Court Grand Slam Tournament that is being held at the end of European Clay Court Season. The clay surface is usually regarded as the slow surface if compared to Grass and Hard Courts surfaces due to which long rallies between players make it very interesting to watch on clay surfaces. Out of 14 Grand Slams, Rafael Nadal has won 9 French Open titles, winning a single grand slam title for the record most number of times in the history of tennis. Before Rafael Nadal, there were Roger Federer and Pete Samparas to have won a single Grand Slam Tournament for 7 times each (Wimbledon).
“Red Clay King” entered in French Open 2005 for the first time where he won his inaugural Grand Slam title by beating Roger Federer in Semi Final in an epic five-setter and Mariano Peutra in the Final. Rafael Nadal kept on dominating European Clay Seasons and won 2006, 2007 and 2008 French Open titles by beating Roger Federer consecutively in the Finals and made the world of tennis to call him as the King of Clay. Rafael Nadal entered the 2009 French Open for the first time as Number 01 Seed but this time he could not hold on to his feet and lost to Swedish Robin Soderling in the 4th Round. Rafael Nadal’s earlier exit finally paved the way for Roger Federer to win the Career Slam as there was no hurdle in his way in the form of Rafael Nadal who had been stopping him from winning the only title of French Open which Federer was missing in his pockets.
Injuries and Rafael Nadal have probably a deep rooted connection between them. 2009 being a not so good year for our champion, as he was facing severe knee problems and had a couple of surgeries as well. While everyone was thinking that Nadal will not be able to dominate the clay surface again, Rafael Nadal gave a come-back performance and left everyone rethink their judgments. He won 5 French Open Titles consecutively by beating Robin Soderling in 2010, Roger Federer once again in 2011, Novak Djokovic in 2012, David Ferrer in 2013 and again by beating Novak Djokovic in 2014.
Have in close relations with injuries, Nadal once again in 2012, suffered knee problems. In spite of bad form, the King of Clay gained momentum in 2013 Clay Court Tournaments and even won French Open by crossing all the hurdles. One to remember that epic Semi Final Battle with Novak Djokovic where he was down to 2-4 Games in the deciding set but yet Nadal managed to win the match and later the title as well. Rafael Nadal has managed to win 10 titles in 2013 Season, second best after 2005 when he won 11 titles in a single season.
In 2015, Rafael Nadal was looking to make it to double figures by winning the French Open for the 10th time but this time he could not prevent injuries and bad form and at-last lost to Novak Djokovic in the Quarter Finals. Facing major injuries including knee surgeries, appendix surgery and stomach infections have ultimately affected Nadal’s performance and playing-form quite badly. Rafael Nadal has been struggling with his form for about 3 years but he never gave up. The fighting spirit and aggressiveness which Nadal has always shown on the court, were also being reflected in his real life while facing these injuries and struggling with his form and fitness. Termed as an ultimate fighter, no injury or problem can really stop him from being on the top of table. We also got to witness the tears in our champ’s eyes in the finale of Australian Open 2014 against Swiss Stanislas Wawrinka when, due to severe backache, it was getting extremely difficult for him to even move but he fought till end. He lost the final but won billions of hearts.
Rafael Nadal is now into the Third Round of French Open 2016 and is in pretty good form as compared to that in last year’s French Open. He has earlier won Monte Carlo and Barcelona Titles showing his class on clay surface once again. Yet there are hopes and even his all time rival Roger Federer considers him favourite to win the French Open title for 10th time. People consider themselves very lucky for witnessing the moments when they cheer up for their favourite players when they win. The King of Clay, the Spanish Matador, the champion now wins or lose, but he surely has won a million hearts and for me that’s the real success and I feel lucky to be born in Rafael Nadal’s era.