Rafael Nadal: 5 Solid Reasons He Should Win the 2011 French Open
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There are not many who would dispute the fact that Rafael Nadal is the greatest ever to play tennis on the red dirt...at least so far.
The only man who may have been as dominant during his own era was the legendary Bjorn Borg, who walked away from tennis at age 26.
Since 2005, Nadal has lost only six matches on clay. In 2005, Nadal lost to Russian Igor Andreev in the quarterfinals of Valencia. Again in 2005, Nadal lost to Argentine Gaston Gaudio 6-0, 0-6, 1-6 during the quarterfinals at Buenos Aires.
The Majorcan did not lose another match on clay until Hamburg in 2007 when he was defeated by Roger Federer in the final. In 2008, Nadal lost to Juan Carlos Ferrero 6-2, 2-6, 0-6 in the round of 32 in Rome. In 2009, Federer defeated Nadal in Madrid 6-4, 6-4 in the final. Then, of course, Nadal lost to Robin Soderling, also in 2009 in the fourth round of the French Open––his first lost ever at Stade Roland Garros.
On clay Nadal is 175-6 to be exact. It gives the Majorcan a winning percentage of 96.7.
Borg won 30 clay-court titles before retiring at age 26; Nadal, age 24, has won 30 with surely more to be added.
Nadal not only broke the previous record for consecutive matches won on clay––he obliterated it by winning 81 consecutive clay-court matches from April 2005 to May 2007. The next closest man was Guillermo Vilas, who had a 53-match winning streak on clay.
The man who ended Nadal's seemingly unending streak was Roger Federer, who defeated Nadal at Hamburg in their 2007 final. It was the only clay-court final Nadal had ever lost to that point.
Nadal has won five French Open singles titles in six years, four consecutively. Borg won six French Open titles, four consecutively. With a win in 2011, Nadal will tie Borg’s record.
Not many bet against him accomplishing that feat, mainly because Nadal has done it five times already, starting in 2005––five good reasons to pick him to win French Open No. 6...
Winner: 2005 French Open
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In 2004, Rafael Nadal, after suffering a stress fracture in his left ankle, missed most of the clay-court season and the French Open.
He made up for his absence in 2005 by dominating the field on clay, winning 24 straight matches. He entered the French Open seeded No. 4, still as a teenager.
This was Nadal’s first tournament on the storied grounds of Stade Roland Garros.
No. 4 seed Nadal got to the final by defeating Lars Burgsmuller in the first round, Xavier Malisse in the second, Frenchman Richard Gasquet in the third and another Frenchman, Sebastien Grosjean, in the fourth.
In the quarterfinals, Nadal met and turned back fellow countryman David Ferrer 7-5, 6-2, 6-0.
As the teenager celebrated birthday No. 19, he upset No. 1 Roger Federer during the 2005 French Open semifinals 6-3, 4-6, 6-4, 6-3.
Nadal was only one of four men to defeat Federer in 2005.
In the final, Nadal upended Mariano Puerta 6-7, 6-3, 6-1, 7-5 to win the French Open on his first try––just as Mats Wilander did in 1982.
Nadal left Paris ranked No. 3 in the world.
Winner: 2006 French Open
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During the clay-court season in 2006, Nadal won 24 consecutive matches––a repeat of 2005. The product of his efforts resulted in Nadal winning four consecutive tournaments on the red dirt.
Those who felt that the Majorcan’s overwhelming success on clay in 2005 was a fluke were quickly quieted.
During this 2006 campaign, Nadal defeated No. 1 Federer in the finals at Monte Carlo and again in the finals of Rome, where it took a fifth-set tiebreak to determine the winner.
Nadal challenged Federer again in the finals of the 2006 French Open, where the Majorcan won, defending his 2005 championship.
For Roger Federer, the defeat marked the first time the Swiss had lost in a major final.
Nadal’s path to the French Open final in 2006 saw him defeat Swede Robin Soderling in the first round 6-2, 7-5, 6-1. Next he overcame American Kevin Kim 6-2, 6-1, 6-4 in the second round and Frenchman Paul-Henri Mathieu 5-7, 6-4, 6-4, 6-4 in the third.
In the fourth round, Nadal dispatched Aussie Lleyton Hewitt 6-2, 5-7, 6-4, 6-2.
Serb Novak Djokovic retired from his quarterfinal match against Nadal at the start of the third set, trailing 6-4, 6-4. In the semifinals, Nadal defeated Croat Ivan Ljubicic in straight sets 6-4, 6-2, 7-6.
That set up the final match with Federer, which the Swiss lost 6-1, 1-6, 4-6, 6-7.
Nadal had now won back-to-back French Open finals.
Winner: 2007 French Open
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In 2007, Nadal finally lost a clay-court tournament when Federer defeated him at Hamburg, ending Nadal’s 81-consecutive match winning record on the red dirt. Eighty-one consecutive matches won on a single surface is a record for the men's tour in the Open Era.
Prior to losing that match, however, Nadal won in Barcelona, Monte Carlo and Rome. Even though Federer had hopes of winning the French Open at long last, Nadal bounced back to overcome the Swiss player in the finals.
Nadal entered Paris in 2007 determined to win his third consecutive French Open championship––his third-career singles slam title.
The Majorcan was seeded second behind Federer.
Argentine Juan Martin del Potro met Nadal in the opening round, losing 5-7, 3-6, 2-6. In the second round, Nadal defeated Italian Flavio Cippola 6-2, 6-1, 6-4, and he followed that with a win over Spaniard Albert Montanes 6-1, 6-3, 6-2 in the third round.
Just as in 2006, Nadal’s opponent in the fourth round was Aussie Lleyton Hewitt, who lost 3-6, 1-6, 6-7 to the unstoppable man from Majorca.
In the quarterfinals, Nadal took care of his countryman and mentor Carlos Moya 6-4, 6-3, 6-0 and Novak Djokovic 7-5, 6-4, 6-2 in the semifinals.
Nadal advanced to the finals for the third year in row, facing Federer for the second consecutive year.
Federer extended Nadal to four sets but lost 3-6, 6-4, 3-6, 4-6.
Nadal’s reputation on clay was taking on legendary status.
Winner: 2008 French Open
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Once again dominating on clay, Nadal met and defeated his arch rival, Federer, in three finals on the red dirt, including Paris.
The Majorcan defeated Federer at Monte Carlo, giving Nadal four straight titles at this Masters Series tournament. He also avenged his loss the previous year in Hamburg by defeating Federer in a three-set final.
Nadal reigned at the French Open in 2008 with an iron grip.
His aggressive delivery in Paris allowed few games for his opponents after Nadal settled into his groove.
Nadal defeated Brazilian Thomaz Bellucci 7-5, 6-3, 6-1 in the first round followed by a win over Frenchman Nicolas Devilder 6-4, 6-0, 6-1 in the second. In the third round, Nadal met and defeated Jarkko Nieminen 6-1, 6-3, 6-1 as well as dismissing countryman Fernando Verdasco 6-1, 6-0, 6-2 in the fourth.
Nadal rolled over fellow Spaniard Nicolas Almagro 6-1, 6-1, 6-1 in the quarterfinals. Novak Djokovic tested Nadal but still could not win a set in the semifinals, losing 4-6, 2-6, 6-7.
This propelled Nadal into his fourth consecutive French Open final, where he would meet Federer for the third year in a row.
The 2008 French Open annihilation of then No. 1 Federer at Stade Roland Garros left the tennis world stunned. Nadal lost only four games and served the Swiss a bagel set (6-1, 6-3, 6-0) in the process.
Nadal became the fifth man in the open era to win a major final without losing a set.
By winning his fourth consecutive French Open final, Nadal joined Bjorn Borg, Pete Sampras and Roger Federer in winning the same Grand Slam title for four consecutive years.
Round Four: 2009 French Open
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Nadal began the 2009 European clay campaign pretty much as he had in the four previous seasons. He won again in Monte Carlo, giving him five consecutive championships there.
Nadal set another record by winning the same ATP Masters Series tournament for five years in a row. He set a similar record by winning the tournament in Barcelona.
In Rome, where he met and defeated Novak Djokovic, Nadal won his fourth consecutive Rome Masters tournament, setting another ATP record.
But in Madrid, Nadal once again met Federer, and he lost––a rare clay-court defeat for Nadal.
For the first time in his career, Nadal entered Paris as the No. 1 seed.
He had taken over the No. 1 ranking in August 2008 after winning Wimbledon for the first time.
Everyone expected Nadal to win the French Open for the fifth consecutive year.
Then the unthinkable happened. Nadal lost in the fourth round of the 2009 French Open to Swede Robin Soderling 2-6, 7-6, 4-6, 6-7.
It was his first loss ever at the French Open. No one was prepared for such a loss because it seemed to all the world that Nadal was unbeatable on the courts of Stade Roland Garros.
Roger Federer went on to win the French Open in 2009.
Winner: 2010 French Open
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After falling back to a ranking of No. 3, and for a couple of weeks No. 4, in early 2010, Nadal began to rebuild his game once he hit the red dirt.
It did not take long.
Nadal dominated once again during the European clay-court season. He won every Masters Series tournament he played on clay. Nadal won his sixth consecutive title in Monte Carlo, setting another ATP record that will be very difficult to equal or surpass.
Trying to preserve his energy level, Nadal skipped Barcelona, even though he realized he would probably win his sixth title there as well. Instead he chose to go onto Rome, where he won his fifth Italian Open.
Nadal equalled Andre Agassi’s record of winning 17 ATP Masters Shields.
In Madrid, Nadal met Federer once again in the final and overcame the Swiss 6-4, 7-6. Federer had won that title in 2009.
That gave Nadal the record––he became the first man to have won 18 Masters singles titles.
Most expected Federer and Nadal to meet again in the 2010 French Open final, but Federer lost in the quarterfinals to Robin Soderling 6-3, 3-6, 5-7, 4-6.
This was the same man who had knocked Nadal out in the fourth round in 2009. By losing in the quarterfinals, Federer would lose his No. 1 ranking when Nadal won the French Open.
Nadal defeated Soderling 6-4, 6-2, 6-4 in the final. This marked the second consecutive final for the Swede.
By winning, Nadal reclaimed the No. 1 ranking, leaving Federer one week short of passing Pete Sampras for the record of holding the No. 1 ranking for the longest period of time.
Nadal was back on top.
2011 French Open Title?
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There is much speculation about Nadal’s ability to continue his winning streak on clay as he enters the 2011 clay-court season.
With the sudden emergence of Novak Djokovic, who has not lost a match in 2011, the pundits ponder the Serb’s ability to defeat Nadal on clay.The Serb has not accomplished this so far. Not many have since Nadal first began winning on this surface in 2005.
All the top players will participate in the Monte Carlo tournament beginning April 10. Nadal has won this tournament for the past six years.
Djokovic will be the No. 2 seed in Monte Carlo, and it will be a true test to see if the Serb’s hard-court success will carry over onto the red clay.
Federer will be seeded No. 3, and Andy Murray will move back up to hold the No. 4 seed, having scooted ahead of Robin Soderling by 125 points.
Nadal will then journey back to Barcelona, where Murray will be the No. 2 seed. Federer and Djokovic will not be participating in Barcelona. The Serb will be playing in the Serbian Open instead.
While the world’s top players will all be back to fight for the titles in Madrid and Rome, the nod will go to Nadal to win those tournaments, especially if he wins in Monte Carlo.
At this point, the 2011 French Open appears to be Nadal’s to win. No one will bet against the Majorcan to win his sixth French Open title and tie Borg's remarkable record.