With a joint record of 20 grand slams, Rafael Nadal is one of the greatest tennis players of all time. Surprisingly, 13 of these championships won at Roland Garros, the only grand slam tournament held on clay.
His domination on the surface, which dates back to his first French Open victory in 2005 and continues to this day, has prompted many to wonder what it is that makes him such a superhuman on clay. The simple explanation is that clay courts slow down the ball and allow for a higher bounce is ideal for Nadal’s game. On the surface, though, there are several additional reasons why the Spaniard is so dominant over his opponents.
Clay Surface And Forehand Expertise
Clay courts in comparison to grass or hard surfaces are slower. As a result, the ball tends to bounce higher when it hits the surface. Players will have extra time to ponder between strokes. It aids Rafael Nadal’s ability to hit the ball harder and accurately.
Rafael Nadal forehand player is a backhand player. The southpaw’s deadly crosscourt forehands land on his right-handed opponents’ backsides. Furthermore, the sluggish clay surface allows him to switch to his forehand while receiving the ball with his backhand. He understands how to use angles to throw his opponents off guard.
The surface and its particular qualities are Nadal are so dominant on clay. The circumstances are drastically different on grass or hard courts, with the clay slowing the ball down and providing a lot more bounce.
Nadal used his exceptional athleticism to build points and tee a devastating forehand. Nadal’s strong topspin strokes for the warm European weather of the clay-court events held. In hotter weather, the courts to play on the ball bounces higher.
To emphasise this point, the Spaniard’s victories in Rome and Monte Carlo, two of the three clay-court Masters competitions on the ATP Tour, exceed those in Madrid, the third.
The high altitude of the Spanish capital, unlike Rome and Monte Carlo, means the ball has less topspin and hence bounces a little lower. It isn’t ideal for Nadal, as it allows some of the Tour’s most powerful serves and hitters to try to break through his defences and knock the Spaniard off the court.
Serve with a wide forehand and a wide backhand.
For the long of Rafael Nadal’s career, his allegedly subpar serve about his opponents has as his flaw. When his ground game isn’t working, Nadal rarely has the luxury of a great first serve that can bail him out. For breakpoints, a 19-time Slam champion needs to drag out rallies.
Rafael Nadal exploits his southpaw serve on the ad side to his advantage despite; having a very weak serve for his career. And nowhere has he done it better than on his preferred red clay; ask Roger Federer how much it sucks for the opposition.
The southpaw uses his services to create a weak return from the right-handed returner by pushing him wide into his backhand corner. It opens up nearly the entire court for Rafael Nadal to use his most weapon, the forehand down the line.
The opponent recovers from his disadvantaged position before Nadal can get a look at his forehand overruns to the other corner in anticipation of a forehand down the line. As a result, Nadal can move behind him and deliver a crosscourt forehand.
On clay, Nadal’s second serve returns points.
When analysing Nadal’s clay results, one metric that sticks out is the number of games he has won while returning a second serve; he has won over 58 per cent of the return points on his opponent’s second serve. To back the second serve Spaniard, always stands deep into the court, giving him more time to generate a full swing of his racquet.
On clay courts, Nadal won the most amount of return games. On the red dirt, he has won 43 per cent of followed by other clay-court specialists Diego Schwartzman, Novak Djokovic, and others. The statistics show that it’s not only to return Nadal’s serve but also to serve against him. These two criteria alone are responsible for the Spaniard’s clay results.
One of Nadal’s assets is his ability to construct points. He usually shows a lot of patience while building the rally, driving his opponent exhausted and waiting for the right moment to unleash a big, decisive victory. Unlike grass and hard court tennis, finishing a point on clay with a single swing racket is nearly difficult. It necessitates decision-making, patience, and perseverance, all of which are hallmarks of Nadal’s game.
Spin play is aided more by a clay surface than by synthetic surfaces. Rafael Nadal has a method of hitting forehands that allow for topspin. Nadal moves from low to high while hitting a forehand shot.
It allows the ball to fly a greater distance over the net, lowering the chances of the ball hitting the net. Due to the increased angle at which the ball reaches the opponent’s force to hit the ball at shoulder level. Furthermore, Nadal’s topspin drives his opponents well behind the baseline, a difficult position to recover from given the slippery surface.
Movement And Court Coverage
Rafael Nadal’s superb movement and court coverage were his most valuable assets early in his career. His court coverage and foot quickness are among the best in the sport’s history. Players would hit enormous groundstrokes at breakneck speed in an open corner, believing they had earned a winner, only for Nadal to appear out of nowhere and make an incredible grab.
The King of Clay provokes multiple errors from his opponents by compelling them to keep hitting one extra shot. And in Nadal’s contests, this often makes the difference. In his pomp, the Mallorcan was a force of nature that could cover all four corners of the court in a single rally and still win.
Rafael Nadal’s pace has slowed significantly with time. But, in recent years, the King of Clay has made up for it by dashing to the net much more. He now pins his opponent in a deep and wide position and tries to complete the point early, which, given his surface-specific strengths, is still on clay.