Rafael Nadal is one of the greatest tennis players of the current generation, but his best performances have always been on the clay court, with the French Open at Roland Garros being his tournament.
With a record 11 French Open titles to his name, Nadal is undoubtedly the “King of Clay”, and he could potentially add to his record this year when the French Open returns.
Nadal has been named as the favourite for this year’s title, with the odds being found here – https://www.betfair.com/exchange/plus/tennis/competition/11948682 – but could this just be start of a great season for the Spaniard?
His first Grand Slam title came in 2005 at the French Open, where Nadal didn’t drop a single set until his fourth-round match against Sébastien Grosjean. He eventually defeated his French opponent 6-4, 3-6, 6-0, 6-3 to claim a place in the quarter-finals of the competition.
At the quarter-final stage, he met fellow Spaniard David Ferrer, but returned to his dominant form, winning in straight sets 7-5, 6-2, 6-0 to set up a tantalising semi-final match against an already-established Roger Federer.
His Swiss rival was always likely to prove to be his toughest test, and so it proved, as Nadal wasn’t quite so dominant in the match. Regardless, he managed to win in four sets, defeating Federer 6-3, 4-6, 6-4. 6-3, to reach the first singles final of his professional career.
He met Argentine Mariano Puerta in the final, and lost the first set via a tie break. He hit back to comfortably win the second and third sets 6-3 and 6-1 respectively before Puerta put in an attempt at a comeback and forced Nadal to win by seven games to five in the fourth set.
Victory in the final not only gave Nadal his first taste of success, but also showed the world that he was one to watch out for. Not once during the tournament was he taken to five sets, and ever since then, he has only been taken to five sets twice at the French Open – in 2011 against John Isner and 2013 against Novak Djokovic.
Until 2012, the record for the most French Open titles belonged to Björn Borg, one of the greatest players to have ever played in the Open Era. Between 1974 and 1981, Borg won six French Open titles, which Nadal surpassed in 2012 with his seventh.
During his historic 2012 victory, he lost just one set in the seven matches he played. From the first round until victory in the semi-final, he defeated every opponent in straight sets. It was only in the final that he final dropped a set. Novak Djokovic was the man to prevent him from having a clean sweep in the French Open, winning the third set 6-2.
Two years later and Nadal won his ninth French Open, which meant that he broke the record which included the French Championships, which were part of the Amateur Era. Max Decugis won eight French Championships prior to 1968 and looking at Nadal’s current record of 11, it’s hard to see anyone surpassing that number any time soon.