Rafa Nadal is the greatest clay court player in history. This statement is universally made by all but die hard Rafa fans often get upset saying that it indirectly hints at Rafa being a one-court player. Well, nothing could be far from the truth, and Rafa’s exploits both on hard courts as well as grass courts have showcased him as one of the greatest all court champions who have graced the wonderful game of tennis.
Rafa is the 1st player in history to win 400 plus matches on both clay and hard courts. He has as many as 6 Grand Slam titles on non-clay courts. He was the 1st to win Wimbledon and French Open in the same year since Bjorn Borg. No one except Rafa has won three consecutive Grand Slam tournaments on clay, grass and hard-court in the same year, a feat Rafa achieved in 2010. The French Open (clay) and the US Open (Hard-court) is a tough double which Laver and Lendl have done twice. However the great Rafa has done it thrice.
Strangely though, there is one very intriguing fact about Rafa’s wins on non-clay courts. This includes his wins both on hard courts and on grass. He has never successfully defended a non-clay court title. Let’s take a look at his wins over the years and how he fared in the succeeding year when he was to defend the title.
Grand Slam Titles
On grass, Rafa has won the Wimbledon Championships twice, in 2008 and 2010. However, in 2009, he first withdrew from the Aegon Championships where it was confirmed that he was suffering from tendinitis in both knees. He also stated that he would try to be fit for Wimbledon. Unfortunately the knee problem let to his being the 1st defending champion since Goran Ivanisevic opting out. He returned the next year to win, but in 2011 he lost to Novak Djokovic, who not only stopped the 8 year Federer-Rafa streak at Wimbledon, but also became world number 1 for the 1st time as well, which also stopped a 7 year Federer-Rafa streak.
Rafa won the 2009 Australian Open in an epic win over Federer. However, the next year in the Quarter-final he had to retire midway in the 3rd set against Andy Murray. It was his 1st ever retirement in a Grand Slam match.
At the US Open, Rafa has won thrice. In 2010 he became the 1st Spaniard to win the US Open in 45 years since Manuel Santana in 1965. He also completed the career Grand Slam with this win over Djokovic. However, in 2011, in a repeat final between the two, it was Djokovic who prevailed. Rafa’s 2nd US Open title was in 2013 once again with Rafa defeating Djokovic. Unfortunately he withdrew from the 2014 tournament due to a right wrist injury.
The 3rd win was in 2017. Can he win in 2018? We will know soon.
Masters 1000 tournaments
Rafa’s 1st Masters 1000 win was at the Rogers Cup in 2005 when he defeated the great Andre Agassi. However in 2006 the Number 2 seed lost to Berdych in the third round. He also won at the Madrid Open in 2005 with a 5 set win over Ivan Ljubicic but lost to Berdych once again in the 2006 QF. At that point of time Berdych had a 3-1 head to head lead over Rafa who has since then won 18 of their next 19 matches.
Rafa then won the 2007 Indian Wells Masters with a straight set win over Djokovic but lost in 2008 to him only in the semi-finals. In the 2008 Rogers Cup he defeated Nicolas Keifer but lost to DelPo next year in the Quarter-finals. He crushed Murray 6-1 6-2 in the 2009 Indian Wells but had a semi-finals loss to Ljubicic the next year.
In 2013 he won 3 hard-court Masters. Indian Wells by defeating DelPo, Rogers Cup by defeating Raonic and Cincinnati by defeating Isner. However, he lost to Dolgopolov in the 3rd round of the 2014 Indian Wells and opted out of both Rogers Cup and Cincinnati. In the entire year he won 5 Masters, and that year he had more hard court masters (3) than clay court ones(2).
This year he has won the Rogers Cup as well and it remains to be seen if he retains/defends it in 2019.
Rafa is a double gold medallist at the Olympics. He won the 2008 Beijing singles gold by defeating Fernando Gonzalez but the 2012 Olympics was on grass and he could not participate due to injury though he was the designated flag bearer of Spain. After his forced withdrawal the Spanish football captain became the flag bearer. Spain was reigning world cup Champion and yet Rafa being 1st choice shows how much of an icon he is for Spain.
Rafa also won the 2016 Rio Olympics doubles Gold with Marc Lopez while the singles Gold was won by Murray by defeating DelPo in the final. In singles Rafa won the bronze by defeating Nishikori.
2020 Olympics will also be on hard courts. Hoping that Rafa, as also his illustrious rivals Federer and Novak are around to make it a great Olympics.
Other non-clay tennis tournaments where Rafa has won are 2005-China, 2006-Dubai, 2009-Queens, 2010-Japan and 2014 Qatar.
However, he did not play in the 2006 China and the 2010 Queens events. At 2007 Dubai, he lost to Youzhny in the quarter-finals. Murray got the better of him at Japan in 2011 while Michael Berrer ousted him in a rare 1st round defeat at Qatar in 2015. For Berrer, who only had top ten wins vs Davydenko and Berdych 5 years back in 2010, this was the biggest win of his career.
It is indeed surprising that Rafa has not defended a non-clay tournament in his illustrious career. There are three tournaments in near future in which he can correct this anomaly. The 1st will be the 2018 US Open, 2nd the 2018 China Open and third will be the 2019 Rogers Cup. Of these, the one he will be most keen will be the 2018 US Open, not so much as to defend a non-clay tournament, but as it will give him his 4th US Open and overall 18th Grand Slam title.
He certainly is one of the favorites to win and we will know soon if he does or not. The draw is out. Rafa faces Ferrer in the 1st round and is scheduled to meet last year’s finalist Kevin Anderson in the quarter-final.
Looking forward to a great US Open 2018
The blogger, Ritesh Misra, is an IRS Officer currently based in Mumbai. He tweets @riteshmisra. His hobbies are sports, films and music.
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