Welcome to Tennis Elbow, the column that looks back on the week that was in the world of tennis. This week, Charles Blouin-Gascon recaps more of the same for Rafael Nadal in Monte-Carlo.
What, did you think he would be content with only La Décima?
A year after adding a tenth title at the Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters, Rafael Nadal was at it again because apparently the only thing left to do after winning 10 is to add an 11th title at this event. La Undécima.
This year in the Principality was more of the same for the Spaniard, one lopsided win after another on the way to yet another photoshoot in the middle of paradise with him holding the trophy. Welcome to the Rafa Nadal show: you look away and suddenly the man has won three and now four matches, and look he’s in the final once again.
Oh actually, it’s already over. Nadal has won, like he (almost) always does, with no real challenges from his opponents and he’s dropped only a handful of games on the way to victory. He beat an overmatched Kei Nishikori by the final score of 6-3 and 6-2 in the final but you feel like the score would have been the same regardless of his opponent.
This time, Nadal only lost 21 games on his way to the title in Monte-Carlo. How many will it be in 2019?
Rafa fête sa victoire avec les ramasseurs #rolexmcmasters https://t.co/32VFftzmPC pic.twitter.com/b7dTURJNl7
— ROLEX MC MASTERS (@ROLEXMCMASTERS) April 22, 2018
In 2018 as it’s been the case for pretty much his entire career, now that the men’s tennis calendar has turned to its clay court season Nadal, though he’s 31 years old and in his 18th year since turning pro, once again feels inevitable.
Same song and dance, you say, and it’s true. But don’t you dare call it boring just because he keeps doing and doing and doing the same thing.
You want to say that the man is pretty clearly in the latter stages of his career if only because he’s at the age where you say tennis players are there, and also because you know that Nadal plays such a physical brand of tennis, that’s why he’s been injured so often. You say that Nadal is near the end, because that’s what you’ve learned from the past.
But though he didn’t win the Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters from 2013 to 2016, he’s back to his winning ways over the previous three seasons now. Clay court season is once again Nadal’s and if nothing else, we can safely say that the man will continue being dominant on his favourite playing surface. Even long after he’s no longer the player he once was and still is for the most part, he’ll always have the clay.
#ATPMasters1000 : ? x 31#RolexMCMasters : ? x 11
What milestone will he reach next? ? pic.twitter.com/xPiObr8JDo
— ATP World Tour (@ATPWorldTour) April 22, 2018
It bears repeating but tennis has never really seen a phenomenon like what Nadal has managed to accomplish on clay since turning pro: it’s not just that 54 of his career titles have come on the surface, or that it’s propelled him at or near the top of the rankings for career Masters 1000 titles and weeks ranked at No. 1.
No, it’s more how utterly ridiculous his dominance has been on the surface and for that, let’s gawk at his career numbers: Nadal has won over 91 per cent of his matches on clay, better than the mark of Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer on hard and grass courts respectively.
But maybe a win percentage doesn’t really speak to you and you prefer absolute numbers? Well, sure. Since 2001, Nadal has won 391 matches on clay against… 35 losses. Seriously: every year between more or less March and the end of May, Nadal has averaged barely over two losses.
You know how when you want to say that there is so few of any one thing you say that you can count them on one hand? Well you can count Nadal’s career losses on clay on all of seven hands.
For him to accomplish all this and over so long, playing in this supposed Golden Era of men’s tennis? It’s preposterous, and it’s forcing us into maybe reconsidering whether the debate over the greatest player of all time is truly settled.
Question of the day:
Can Federer still be the GOAT when Nadal is the greatest ever on clay? When Djokovic is perhaps the best to play on hard-courts? Roger has his stake on grass, but Sampras was right there as well. Are Major ? the conclusive factor in determining the GOAT?
— Tennis Connected (@TennisConnected) April 22, 2018
Nadal is not the greatest of all time, no, but who could blame you for calling him that when you watch him play on clay?
Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG