Nadal wins another French Open – why is he so good on clay?

Rafael Nadal won a record 13th French Open title which is the most won in a single tournament. The King of Clay demolished Novak Djokovic in consecutive sets and still, there is no weapon available that can match the Spaniard on a clay court.

Why is Rafael Nadal such a monster on clay? Even though he suffered defeats in Masters tournaments, still it is an impossible task to somehow stop him on this surface. In this article, we will talk about the reasons behind Nadal’s dominance on the clay surface.

Nadal – impossible to stop on the clay

You can say that there is no such thing as aliens, ghosts, no-loss strategy. Some even compare Tennis to a game of chance where everything is random. The most common game that people associate it with is Keno or just a regular lottery where everything is completely random.

Therefore, just like there is no best Keno strategy, there is also no such thing as the best analyst for a game nor the best way to approach a game in Tennis, but Nadal manages to do it anyway. Rafa is the one who always wins the French Open no matter who stands in front of him on the court. So why is he so special?

The grass was tennis’s only covering until the late 19th century, until William Renshaw, a seven-time Wimbledon winner, covered the grass courts with a red crumb of clay pots. So he protected the field where he gave tennis lessons in Cannes, from the negative impact of the sun.

Today, the ground cover is improved and used at Roland Garros and other tournaments during the season from April to June. The main component for most of these courts is a brick crumb – such sites are common in Spain and France. In addition to bricks, the ground is often composed of limestone, coal, and gravel. There are more green clay courts in America called Har Tru, which use basalt. This coating responds better to negative temperatures and does not hold back moisture, unlike red soil. This allows the clay season to be extended by several months.

Red soil is the slowest coating in tennis. Clay grabs the ball, so its speed slows down, and the rebound is the highest. The green soil is faster, but still not the same as grass or hard.

The ground is ideal for the top-back: a small speed allows you to hit the ball, giving it a strong rotation. Thanks to this, the tennis player creates his own tempo and controls the game, which we can see in Rafael Nadal’s case.

Speed and ideal environment 

Because the speed of playing on the ground involves longer draws and work on each point. It is no coincidence that the matches on this surface are the longest – to win such a match, it is necessary not only to have patience and endurance but also to be in perfect physical shape. You have to be fast and have strong legs. To run the same distance as on grass and the ground requires a lot more energy.

The effect of the feed on the ground decreases, more points are played from the backline. Roger Federer says that you don’t have to play on the ground in the summer. All you need are legs, an amazing forehand, and a backhand.

One of the fundamental skills to play on the ground is the correct glide. Former world number one Jim Courier believes players should learn to glide on the ground without using a ball and a racket. At the same time, the length of the slip depends on the impact: for example, for a shortened impact you have to slide for – two or three meters. And it works better in men. Women use slip less often because of the need to catch balance on a slippery surface.

The player can slide after the impact and invest in it. According to Mats Wilander, those players who move best on the court, slip into the blow, not after it. For players with an attacking style, the ground is more difficult than other coatings. 

Ground courts are the most common in Europe, namely in Spain and France, where traditionally the best players on the ground. Today, they are on the heels of tennis players from other countries: for example, the Austrian Dominic Thiem, who made it to the final of Roland Garros twice. 

However, it is still difficult to win the King of Clay with his 13 trophies at the main clay-ground tournament. Nadal’s perfect strong top-spin, athleticism, and tenacity make him the best player on clay in the history of tennis. His footwork is amazing. I don’t think anyone else can move that fast on the ground. With a giant forehand allowing Rafa to play a great game on the backline, the Spaniard is always keen to diversify the draw shortened or complete a point with a kick off the net.

Roger Federer, who has long failed to win at Roland Garros, said the Spaniard was the main obstacle to victory: The Swiss have not managed to defeat Nadal at this tournament so far: Roger was lucky that in 2009 Rafa lost in the fourth round and did not reach the face-to-face meeting.


So here comes the main question – how to stop Rafael Nadal on clay? The answer is pretty much very direct – it is impossible. While Nadal is 34 years old and already reaching the twilight years of his career, even young players are unable to match his physical capabilities on clay. Nadal is able to win even more titles on clay and no one is going to stop him.

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