Rafa Nadal starts his European clay court campaign at the Monte Carlo Masters on Wednesday as he attempts to defend the four titles he claimed in his favourite surface last season – Monte Carlo, Barcelona, Madrid and Roland Garros. The world number one has 4,680 ATP ranking points to defend before the Tour moves to grass and some of the greats of the game, past and present, have had their say on why the Spaniard is the undisputed king of clay.
Nadal has won Monte Carlo on 10 occasions and has also lifted the French Open title a record 10 times, an incredible feat at what is regarded by many players as the hardest grand slam of the four.
Becker: "He has an aura that make it tough for his opponent"
“First of all, his movement on a clay court is exceptional, the spins he can put on the ball is incredible and it has a bigger effect on this surface and he also has an aura that make it tough for his opponent to believe he can be beaten on clay,” said Boris Becker in quotes collated by Tennis365. “To win as many tournaments as he has done on the surface is just incredible and it is a record that will probably never beaten. I know how hard it is to win the French Open.”
Andre Agassi, who until recently was coaching Novak Djokovic, the 2016 French Open champion, and won the tournament himself in 1999, opined that there is no doubt where Nadal stands in the list of all-time greats on clay: "I fought so hard to win the French Open one time and this guy has won it 10 times, which is just amazing. Rafa is a great inspiration for so many people around the world and whatever debate we might have over who is the best player of all-time, whether it is Rafa, Federer, Borg, Laver... there is no doubt about the best clay court player of all-time.”
Federer: "Rafa has always had an advantage over me on a clay court"
Roger Federer, Nadal’s great rival and a losing finalist against Nadal in Paris on four occasions, said: “Clearly Rafa has always had an advantage over me on a clay court and the record confirms that. I tried many different things to change that head-to-head, changing a few things on my backhand, looking at different tactics, but he had the answers on clay. His movement is so impressive on clay and his game fits the surface perfectly. I feel like I can play well on clay, but it is physically demanding and Rafa has mastered that surface better than anyone.”
Djokovic, who is feeling his way back onto the Tour after recovering from surgery to correct a problem in his elbow and may meet Nadal in the last eight in Monte Carlo, concurred with Federer that Nadal is the best of all time on clay. “He is not called King of Clay for nothing. He is the ultimate challenge on this surface and the player to beat every time we have a clay court tournament for a good reason. He is left handed and that helps his game, he gets amazing angles and shows good invention on the court. Look at the record, it is just crazy and this is why beating him at Roland Garros [in the 2015 quarter-finals] meant so much to me.”