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 My annual clay court tribute to Rafael Nadal

2011-04-25 15:16:37
by  Cheryl Murray

I’m a big fan of life’s little absurdities. Take, for example, the long-time habit in Hollywood of using British actors (or worse, an American with a fake English accent) to designate a European character....ANY European character. Need an Austrian nun-turned-singing-governess? No need to look for an actual Austrian...or indeed anyone German-speaking when Julie Andrews has that handy British accent.

You might be thinking that Julie Andrews has little (nothing) to do with tennis. And strictly speaking, you would be correct. But this morning as I sat to write the first of my 2 yearly “Rafael Nadal is the Zeus of clay courts” blogs, a little voice in my head that sounded suspiciously like Jean-Luc Piccard said “Clay....the final frontier...” and that got me thinking about how Captain Piccard is supposed to be French. know...they got suave Englishman Patrick Stewart to play the role. And that, in turn, got me thinking about Fraulein Maria....not that I’m easily distracted or anything.

The Starship Enterprise notwithstanding, clay really HAS become the final frontier in tennis...or, to be more precise, defeating Rafael Nadal on clay is. I usually write this first ‘Rafa on clay’ entry after Monte Carlo, but I decided to wait until after Barca this year. I didn’t think Nadal looked quite as dominant at the Monte Carlo Country Club as he has in years past. But in the end it simply didn’t matter because even a Rafa at 70% is still so much better than the third-best clay courter at the moment that he didn’t drop a set in the final.

At this point, I think arguments about who is the best clay-courter ever are moot. Nothing against Bjorn Borg, who is a legend in his own right, but what Rafael Nadal can do on the dirt is quite frankly unprecedented. Do you realize that in seven (!) years, you can almost count the number of losses Mr. Nadal has had on clay on ONE HAND? Six losses on the surface since 2005. Six losses, two of which came when the Spaniard was still a teenager in 2005. And thirty titles. Not thirty wins, thirty TITLES on clay alone.

I don’t know what’s going to happen for the rest of the clay-court season. Perhaps playing that extra week in Barcelona will cost Nadal dearly in terms of fatigue when the French or Wimbledon rolls around. What I *do* know is that we have now gotten to the point where the wins year after year have long surpassed the boring phase, by which I refer to Mr. Nadal’s legion of detractors who claim that watching him win on clay is utter drudgery. Time to give credit where it’s due and enjoy the Nadal legacy for what it is.

Even the fans in Monte Carlo have finally decided that it’s time to embrace their champion. For years, they’ve seemed to simply endure Nadal’s wins there. I saw it with my own eyes in 2008. They so desperately wanted Federer to win and year after year, he fell short to the Mallorcan. They gave Nadal polite applause after each final, but their heart wasn’t in it. No longer. Monte Carlo is Rafa’s tournament (after seven consecutive titles, it’s hard to argue otherwise)....and after the better part of a decade, it seems they finally decided ‘if you can’t beat him, join him’.

King of Clay indeed.


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