June 12, 2013

Nadal Solidifies His Place as the Best Ever on Clay

By - Brad Heerschop

New year, same old story.

On Sunday, 27-year-old Rafael Nadal captured his unprecedented eighth French Open championship, besting fellow Spaniard David Ferrer in straight sets (6-3, 6-2, 6-3). Prior to the anti-climactic finale, Ferrer hadn't lost a single set the entire tournament.

Photo by: Getty Images
Last year, Rafa became the first player ever to win seven titles on the red dirt of Roland Garros. Now he stands alone as the only player in tennis history to win eight championships at any one Grand Slam event.

There is no question remaining as to who the greatest clay court player of all time is. Nadal has an astonishing career record at the French Open (the only Grand Slam played on clay) of 59-1. His one loss to Robin Soderling in the fourth round in 2009 is the only blemish in an otherwise perfect showing at Roland Garros.

Before he was hardly tested in the finals, Nadal's toughest competition in the tourney came as no surprise. He faced world No. 1 Novak Djokovic in the semi-finals, in what will go down as one of the greatest matches in the history of the French Open.

It took Nadal five sets and 4 hours and 37 minutes to cap off the victory. When it was all said and done, he won 6-4, 3-6, 6-1, 6-7, 9-7, in a match for the ages. While Nadal was on a path towards continued French Open supremacy, Djokovic was trying to win his first ever French Open title and complete the career Grand Slam.

Amazingly, it wasn't the longest match the two rivals have had against one another, as they battled for 5 hours and 53 minutes in last year's Australian Open.

What makes Rafa's win at Roland Garros even more impressive is the fact that he had been out of action for seven months after a nagging knee injury sidelined him in the second round of Wimbledon last year. Nadal's twelfth career Grand Slam title came almost eleven months after he last competed in a major.

Even with the win, however, Nadal dropped from fourth to fifth in the world rankings. Ironically, he swapped places with the same man he just defeated with ease in the final, David Ferrer. Still, don't expect Rafa to stay at four very long. Look for him to claw his way back into the top 3 in the very near future.

One of tennis' all-time greats still has plenty left to show us.

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