Taming the Clay Monster
April 4, 2009 · Print This Article
Taming the Clay Monster: Who (else) can end Nadal’s reign?
28-0. This is Rafael Nadal’s lifetime record at the French Open. Since setting foot at Rolland Garros in 2005 he has yet to drop a match at the most physically grueling Slam out of the four majors. Will he tie Borg and make it five in the row this year? Odds (and bookmakers) will be on his side. There will be the usual suspects: Federer, Murray, Djokovic and Del Potro. However, let’s take a look at some other possibilities, however improbable they are:
Stanislas Wawrinka -
The other Swiss man with the smooth one-handed backhand, Wawrinka had a great 2008 season punctured by his first trip into the top-10. He does not have any atomic-grade weapons to bludgeon his way past the world #1, but Nadal’s kicking topspin will not work as well against Stan’s backhand, his best shot. In addition, clay is by far his favorite surface. Upset Meter (out of 5): ***
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga –
At the Australian Open in 2008, relative unknown Tsonga capped off a blistering run to the final by destroying Nadal in the semifinals. The Frenchman’s motivation will be at its fullest performing in front of his home crowd, but will his powerful game stand up to the pressure and Nadal’s fearless retrieving for five sets? Upset Meter: **
Andy Roddick –
Igor Andreev –
Interesting tidbit, before Federer ended Nadal’s historic clay court winning streak in the 2007 Hamburg Masters Final, Andreev was the last man to best Rafa on the red stuff. If you watched the heart-stopping five set marathon between the Valencia-trained Russian and Federer at last year’s US Open, you would know that Andreev possesses a cannon of a Western forehand not unlike Nadal’s. However, his shaky backhand and average movement makes his game very much exploitable. Upset Meter: *
Guillermo Coria –
This one is a real longshot, as Coria has not done much on Tour since his heart-wrenching loss against Gaston Gaudio in 2004. Still, El Mago could have what it takes to surprise Nadal for 3 sets in an early round, where they have the best chance of meeting.
Upset Meter: ****
With all that being said, almost no player on Earth has the game to beat a fully healthy Nadal on clay in a best-of-five match (he’s never lost one, either). Still, the grinding style Rafa prefers will put his knees, ankles and feet to the test. He missed the 2004 tournament due to an almost career-ending stress fracture in his foot, and catching him below 100% fit will be anyone’s best chance at dethroning Nadal at the French
Upset Meter: *****
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