RAFA AND THE CLAY: AS LETHAL AS ANY COMBINATION IN SPORT


Photograph: Getty Images

After a stellar start to 2022 on hard court, the ‘King of Clay’ will make his awaited return to the surface this week at the Masters 1000 event in Madrid. Ahead of the Spaniard’s homecoming, here’s an in depth look at Nadal’s incredible clay dominance over the course of his career:

Roland Garros

1.

13 Titles - The most of any player at a single tournament in tennis history.

2.

105 Wins - The equal most of any player at a single tournament in men’s tennis history. (Federer, Wimbledon)

3.

97.2% Win Rate - The highest of any player at a single tournament in men’s tennis history (min. 30 matches)

4.

French Open Titles:

13 - Nadal

12 - Every other current player combined (men and women)


5.

No male player has more Grand Slam titles on a single surface than Nadal on clay:

13 - Nadal (Clay) - has lost 3 matches

12 - Djokovic (Hard) - has lost 21 matches

11 - Federer (Hard) - has lost 29 matches

6.

Least games lost en route to a Grand Slam Title: (Active players)

35 - Nadal (RG 2017)

41 - Nadal (RG 2008)

53 - Nadal (RG 2012)

53 - Nadal (RG 2020)

57 - Nadal (RG 2014)

Nadal’s reign over Roland Garros has been as dominant as any athlete at a single venue in sporting history.


And yet this supremacy extends beyond just the French Open, to the Spaniard’s entire clay court career.


7.

Nadal ranks:

100th in ‘Most Clay Entries’

1st in ‘Most Clay Titles’ (by a margin of 13)


8.

Masters 1000 titles on clay:

26 - Nadal

25 - Rest of the current tour


9.

Nadal (Clay) vs Djokovic (Hard) comparison:


Big Titles:

Nadal - 39 (4 events on clay)

Djokovic - 39 (8 events on hard)


Total Titles:

Rafa - 62 (107 clay entries)

Novak - 62 (169 hard entries)


10.

Longest match winning streak on a single surface:

81 - Nadal (Clay)

65 - Federer (Grass)

60 - Federer (Hard)

53 - Vilas (Clay)

50 - Connors (Hard)

48 - Borg (Clay)


Not only has Nadal dominated on clay, but he has continuously prevented the rest of the men’s tour from having any extended success on the surface.


11.

Longest match winning streak on clay: (Big 4)

81 - Nadal

17 - Djokovic

15 - Murray

14 - Federer


12.

Nadal does not have a negative H2H record against a single opponent on clay (min 3 matches). For comparison, both Federer and Djokovic have negative H2H records on every surface.


13.

Seasons winning at least 95% of matches on clay: (Active players)

9x - Nadal

0x - Rest of the men’s tour

14.

Seasons with 3+ titles on clay: (Active players)

12x - Nadal

1x - Rest of the men’s tour


Nadal’s numbers on clay remain supreme even when compared with his two greatest rivals (Federer and Djokovic) on their most dominant surfaces.


15.

Overall Match Win % on best surface:

91.52% - Nadal (Clay)

86.88% - Roger (Grass)

84.35% - Novak (Hard)


16.

Entry / Win % on best surface:

57.9% - Nadal (Clay)

39.6% - Federer (Grass)

36.7% - Djokovic (Hard)


17.

Final Win % on best surface:

88.6% - Nadal (Clay)

75.3% - Djokovic (Hard)

73.2% - Federer (Hard)


Nadal has made up for the lack of big events on clay by simply dominating the same streak of tournaments year on year.


18.

Longest win streak at single Masters 1000 event: (began in 1990)

46 - Nadal (Monte Carlo)

21 - Federer (Hamburg)

19 - Djokovic (Indian Wells)

19 - Agassi (Miami)


19.

Longest win streak at single ATP 500 event:

41 - Nadal (Barcelona)

29 - Djokovic (Beijing)

24 - Federer (Basel)


20.

Most match wins at a single Masters 1000 event, in men’s history:

Rafael Nadal - 73 (Monte Carlo)


21.

Most match wins at a single ATP 500 event, in men’s history:

Rafael Nadal - 66 (Barcelona)


22.

90% or higher win rate at a single Masters 1000 event: (All time)

Rafael Nadal - Monte Carlo

Rafael Nadal - Rome


A big part of Nadal’s clay ascendancy stems from his ability to demolish opponents and move through matches and draws at a rapid pace.


23.

Clay titles won without dropping a set: (Active players)

26x - Nadal

4x - Thiem

3x - Djokovic

2x - Federer

2x - Schwartzman

2x - Karlovic


24.

Grand Slam titles won without dropping a set:

4x - Nadal at Roland Garros

2x - All other current players combined


25.

Masters 1000 titles won dropping less than 25 games:

4x - Rafael Nadal

0x - Rest of current mens tour combined


26.

Most bagel (6-0) sets scored on clay: (Active players)

76 - Nadal

29 - Djokovic

21 - Verdasco

19 - Gasquet

17 - Federer


The percentage of professional tennis played on clay continues to decline with hard courts becoming increasingly popular every year.


In 1976: 49% of the tour was on clay, and 19% was on hard. (+30% on clay)

In 2021: 30% was on clay, and 59% was on hard. (+29% on hard)


It’s hard to even imagine how many records Nadal could hold if he competed in a clay-dominant era, and it’s safe to say there wouldn’t even be a ‘Greatest of all time’ debate if there was a second slam on clay instead of hard.


The Spaniard posts one of the greatest tennis careers even disregarding the clay - but being virtually unbeatable for more than 15 years over an entire surface can not be understated.


Ultimately, there are no nicknames more fitting than Rafa’s as the ‘King of clay’, and in my opinion, it is Nadal’s clay dominance which sets him apart from any other male player in tennis history.