• Asif M. D. Hajra
  • Publish Date: Jul 3 2018 7:20PM
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  • Updated Date: Jul 3 2018 7:20PM

The ‘King of Clay’ 

 Witness from Here!


For sports buffs of my generation, playing tennis here (on any court) has always been a dream not come true. And dreaming the clay court to play on – would be fantasy.  In youth, I heard of Amar Singh club housed a lawn tennis club. Till the establishment of Gindun Stadium, lawn tennis courts would not exist in public space. It would appear on TV only.  

As a boy watching Ivan Landl play Stephen Edberg I was not so inquisitive, for who would win the tournament, rather it were the words ‘deuce’ and ‘egalite’ which would trigger the aspiration to learn more and more about tennis. The term ‘Grand Slam’ was equally mysterious till recently. It would even instill a sense of fantasy with the likes of Gabriela Sabatini, Steffi Graff, Anna Kornikova and lately Mariya Sherapova. And for 30 years now, the love for the game has ever grown since and so has been the interest in analyzing it. 

Over the years since late 80s, this lawn tennis fan, albeit insignificant, has witnessed (sadly on TV only) many champions emerge (talk men only) – be it Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi, Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal or Novak Djokovic and so the genre of fanciest hair cuts – be it Andre Agassi’s long lion-mane or Guga’s curly cauliflower. It would be unfair not to mention female greats like Martina Navratilova, Steffi Graff, Monica Seles, Martina Hingis and William sisters etc. who have dominated the game in their own categories. I am not gender biased though. 

And talk the surface, every kind has had a master. On grass it takes the prowess of Federer to compete with the likes of Sampras for a claim on the all-time great. On hard court though it is even more challenging to pick up the greatest among Rod Laver, Ivan Landl, Roger Federer or Novak Djokovic though Djoko would deserve it the most. On clay – no doubt it is Rafael Nadal!

Winner of record 11 career French Open championships at the age of 32, Nadal has already cast himself as the ‘King of Clay’ – left-handed master with signature one-handed forehand. Having officially turned professional in 2001, Nadal won his first French Open in 2005 defeating Argentine Mariano Puerta in four sets. 2005 French Open win was followed by another 3 consecutive triumphs at Roland Garros between 2006-2008 – every time beating his rival Roger Federer. 

2009 was the year of first upset for the king of clay court at the hands of Swedish Robin Soderling who was seeded 23rd at the beginning of 2009 French Open. This was Nadal’s first defeat at the French Open, having won the title in all 4 previous occasions at Roland Garros since his debut in 2005. Soderling defeated then defending champion Nadal in a 4-setter, only emerging as the runner-up at the hands of 2009 champion Roger Federer.

Resuming dominance at Roland Garros, Nadal registered five more consecutive French Open wins between 2010 to 2014. Interestingly, in 2012, after losing three consecutive grand slam finals to Serbian Novak Djokovic, Nadal took the revenge on his favourite surface by defeating Djokovic in the 2012 French Open final to break Swedish legend Bjorn Bjorg’s record for the men’s French Open singles championships with 7 French Open titles. It was Bjorg who had won the most (6) French Open titles before (1974,1975, 1978,1979, 1980 and 1981).

Beleaguered by injuries in the latter part of 2014, Nadal struggled to maintain his form in 2015 and as a result, failed to win a Grand Slam title during the year. Moreover, it set the end to his record streak of having captured at least one major tournament in 10 straight years (2005 to 2015). 

In 2017, clay complemented its king again, ending the Grand Slam drought, when Nadal won a 10th career French Open in June that year.                

Lately, French Open 2018 saw Nadal once again prove himself as the ‘King of Clay’ as the defending champion defeated then world No. 8 and 7th seeded Austrian Dominic Thiem in three straight sets (6-4, 6-3, 6-2) to claim his 11th French Open and 17th Grand Slam title. With this win, Nadal also equalled the all-time record of 11 Grand Slam singles won at one major set by Australian female tennis player Margaret Smith Court. Margaret has won 11 Australian Open tournaments between 1960 to 1973, besides 5 French Open, 3 Wimbledon and 5 US open championships, a record total of 24 Grand Slam titles which still stands. In fact, it was one of the smoothest sail through the tournament as the clay court master demolished Argentine Juan Martin del Porto in straight sets in the semi-final. By defeating Delpo in the semi-final, Nadal also claimed his 85th win in Paris against just two losses and also became the second man to reach 11 finals at the same slam, equaling Roger Federer’s mark at Wimbledon.

In its open era, even though Roland Garros has witnessed the class of Bjorn Borg, Mats Wilander, Ivan Landl, Gustavo Kurten, but the mastery of Rafael Nadal on its courts has had no match. During the last few decades, its courts have hosted sensations like Sergi Brugeura, Carlos Moya and Robin Soderling, but the consistency with which Nadal has held to his magic on clay, it would take decades to produce another Nadal on clay.

Nadal is surely the ‘King of Clay’ and you have a witness here! 

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