By Toni Headley
Toni Headley is a tennis expert who worked at ESPN for 10 years and has been a freelance writer there for the past 2 years. She also previously worked at CBS Sports and has covered every major tennis tournament in the world multiple times.
Rafael Nadal has begun the clay court season in spectacular fashion by winning his first two tournaments without dropping a set. First he defended his Monte Carlo title at the Monte Carlo Rolex Masters – 1000, where he won his 8th consecutive title, his first title since winning the French Open last year. He is 44-1 in Monte Carlo with his only loss coming during his debut in 2003 in the round of 16. Not only did he defend his title in Monte Carlo, but he was finally able to best his arch-rival Novak Djokovic, whom he had lost to in seven finals dating back to last year. Nadal is the only player to win at least 1 ATP Masters – 1000 title for eight consecutive years. In doing so he won is 20th Masters – 1000 trophy, which broke a tie with Roger Federer.
At his home club, the “Real Club Tenis Barcelona,” Nadal won his 7th consecutive title and his 35th straight match on the 10th anniversary of his professional debut. This makes Nadal the only player in the open era to have won two tournaments seven times (Monte Carlo & Barcelona). He is 35-1 in Barcelona with his only loss coming in his debut in 2003 in the 2nd round. He defeated fellow Spaniard David Ferrer for the 4th time in the championship match (2008, 2009, 2011, & 2012); he did not defend his title in 2010. Nadal has now won 77 straight matches on clay in the month of April to go along with his 15 titles. This is how you earn the title “King of Clay”.
What can we expect from Nadal in the next few weeks before the French Open begins? His next tournament will be the Mutua Madrid Open Masters – 1000, which will be played on the now infamous blue clay courts. These are the only blue clay courts in the world at the Caja Magica: “The Magic Box.” He lost in the finals to Novak Djokovic last year and will be eager to exact some revenge and win the title for a 3rd time; he won in 2005 & 2010.
He will follow that up with the Internazionali BNL d’Italia – Roma, Foro Italico the Rome Masters – 1000, which he has won 5 times; 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, & 2010 and will be most eager to add a 6th trophy. He also lost in the finals to Novak Djokovic last year, making it the first time he lost back to back finals on clay. However, he would rebound to win his 6th French Open title three weeks later in a hard fought battle with the sensational Swiss, Roger Federer.
I like Nadal’s chances of sweeping the clay court season and winning his 7th French Open title, which would break a tie with the legendary Bjorn Borg. The way Nadal dominated in Monte Carlo and Barcelona has given him a lot of confidence going into the next three tournaments. I expect Nadal to be right at home on his beloved red dirt on Court Philippe Chatrier at Roland Garros where he is 45-1, with his only blemish a 2009 round of 16 loss to the Swede Robin Soderling. If Nadal should triumph and win his 7th French Open title in eight years at Roland Garros, he will undoubtedly take his place as the greatest clay court player of all time and rightfully so.
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