Rafael Nadal – The King of Clay and Greatest Player in French Open History

Rafael Nadal turns 35 during the 2021 French Open. It will be the 17th time in his illustrious career that he has graced the clay courts of Roland Garros.

Performing in Paris is something the Spaniard has done year in, year out with alarming regularity. In fact, across his 16 consecutive French Open appearances, Nadal has lost just two matches in the Grand Slam tournament.

His moniker, the King of Clay, is something that he has well and truly earned by breaking all records. Most tennis players would call 13 Slams a fabulous career, but they are just Nadal’s Roland Garros wins alone.

The only blemishes, if you can call them that, on his magnificent French Open record were losses to Robin Söderling in four sets back in 2009 and Novak Djokovic in the 2015 quarter-finals. Other than that, Nadal has been untouchable in the City of Light.

Maybe there’s something in the water, but for some reason he has shone brightest of all in Paris. Nadal’s is the perfect game for clay court competition, and so it has proved time and time again.

This is why the tennis betting on the French Open men’s singles this year has him a hot 6/5 favourite with only long-time rival Djokovic and Austrian player Dominic Thiem thought capable of an upset.

Nadal is a master at work. Just as sculptors mould from clay, he reigns supreme on this surface. When he finally retires, he will go down as the greatest at Roland Garros ever. Even before 1925 when the French Open was anything but, and only French club members could play, no man or woman can boast anything like the singles success Nadal has enjoyed here. What makes his incredible achievements even more remarkable is the company he has been keeping for most of his career.

Nobody else has got much of a look-in at Roland Garros with Nadal on the scene but, elsewhere and at other Slams, he has been part of a golden era for tennis. Swiss superstar Roger Federer and Djokovic are both contemporaries.

Along with Sir Andy Murray, this Big Four have dominated tennis since the mid-2000s. Nadal’s place among the pantheon of greats is assured, then, but he will always be synonymous with the French Open.

He has completed the career Grand Slam with success at the Australian Open in Melbourne, reigning on the grass courts of Wimbledon twice in the past, and four US Open victories at Flushing Meadows between 2010 and 2019. Nadal has won two or more tennis majors in the same year five times.

There is no need or desire on his part to get away from his association with clay. History will remember Nadal as a force of nature, best of his generation from a nation that has its fair share of memorable tennis pros.

Perhaps the scariest thing about Nadal is that he’s not done yet. There is still time to extend his French Open record, and he probably will.

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