Rafael Nadal and the Other Top 10 Men’s Clay Court Tennis Players Today

David DietzContributor IIIMay 23, 2011

Rafael Nadal and the Other Top 10 Men’s Clay Court Tennis Players Today

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    PARIS - JUNE 10:  A general view of Court Philippe Chatrier taken during the Women's Final between Svetlana Kuznetsova of Russia and Justine Henin-Hardenne of Belgium during day fourteen of the French Open at Roland Garros on June 10, 2006 in Paris, Franc
    Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

    There is no questioning Rafa is the best player on clay today. He wins most arguments for best clay court specialist ever as well.

    Besides the Spanish sensation, there are several players (mostly Spaniards as well) who are vying for the honor of second best on clay. 

    Here are the 10 current players (in order) who are not only competing on the court but in the rankings for the status as the world's greatest dirt ballers. 

10. Feliciano Lopez

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    ROME, ITALY - MAY 12:  Feliciano Lopez of Spain hits a forehand return during his third round match against Rafael Nadal of Spain during day five of the Internazionali BNL d'Italia at the Foro Italico Tennis Centre on May 12, 2011 in Rome, Italy.  (Photo
    Alex Livesey/Getty Images

    Unlucky number 11. 

    Maybe it's fitting that Feliciano Lopez comes to Paris unseeded for the first time in a while as he misses the top 10 in this ranking by just a hair as well. His poor ranking is in large part due to his slow start on the hard courts, because since moving to clay Lopez has been a menace to the games top players.

    Once on the slippery surface Lopez likes best, the Spaniard has gone about methodically dispatching fellow players in the top 50 and has posted wins over the likes of Juan Monaco (38), Janko Tipsarevic (37), Albert Montanes (28), Guillermo Garcia-Lopez (26), Milos Ranic (25), Michael Llodra (21).

    While 11 top-50 wins is impressive (including eight of them on clay), Lopez is lacking a defining victory over a top-10 foe that would push him up this list. 

10. Thomas Bellucci

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    MADRID, SPAIN - MAY 07:  Thomaz Bellucci of Brazil reacts in his semi final match against Novak Djokovic of Serbia during day seven of the Mutua Madrilena Madrid Open Tennis on May 7, 2011 in Madrid, Spain.  (Photo by Jasper Juinen/Getty Images)
    Jasper Juinen/Getty Images

    The fiery Brazilian reminds a lot of people of his compatriot Gustavo Kuerten who had more than his fair share of success on the red dirt. Bellucci has a long ways to go before he can be considered in Guga's class, but the talented youngster is off to a good start. 

    Already this year he has wins over Florian Mayer (30), Tomas Berdych (7) and Andy Murray (4) on his way to his first career semifinal of a Master Series in Madrid. 

    Other notable wins on clay include beating Vernando Verdasco and Tommy Robredo, two stalwarts of the clay circuit. 

9. Tommy Robredo

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    INDIAN WELLS, CA - MARCH 16:  Tommy Robredo of Spain celebrates his win over Sam Querrey during the BNP Paribas Open at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden on March 16, 2011 in Indian Wells, California.  (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)
    Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

    Just because he is momentarily sidelined with an lower leg injury doesn't mean you can forget about him.Tommy Robredo is a maestro on clay and had made the quarterfinals four times in the past nine years at Roland Garros.

    Robredo posted several nice victories already this year on clay including a win over 8th ranked Fernando Verdasco and David Nalbandian who was ranked 20th at the time.

    Absent from this year's French Open, Robredo will make his presence felt when he is fit and ready to return. 

8. Andy Murray

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    PARIS, FRANCE - MAY 22:  Andy Murray of Great Britain plays a forehand during a practice session on day one of the French Open at Roland Garros on May 22, 2011 in Paris, France.  (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
    Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

    Being the fourth best player in the world but only seventh best clay courter on this list must leave Murray feeling pretty slighted. 

    You could make a case that feeling snubbed would be more than justified. Murray did just reach the semifinals of both the Monte Carlo Masters Series and the Masters Series in Rome. 

    Not to nitpick, but Murray had a fortuitous draw facing and beating only three top 25 players. His best victory was over Gilles Simon, not exactly a marquee win. His two losses were to Nadal and Djokovic respectively. 

    Futhermore, Murray has only played on clay in three tournaments and lost his second match at the Masters Series in Madrid. He has the all court game to succeed anywhere, but when you compare the 15 to 20 matches that others have already played on clay, Murray might not have had the proper tuneup. 

    Lastly, in five attempts at Roland Garros, Murray has only made it to the final eight one time, which is by far his worst showing of all the majors. 

    Therefore when you add it all up, Murray slides out of the top five. Maybe a deep run this year could change that.

7. Juan Martin Del Potro

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    KEY BISCAYNE, FL - MARCH 29:  Juan Martin Del Potro of Argentina looks on against Mardy Fish during the Sony Ericsson Open at Crandon Park Tennis Center on March 29, 2011 in Key Biscayne, Florida.  (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)
    Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

    Del Potro has the type of dominant all court game that transcends surfaces often causing people to overlook the big Argentine's deft touch and mastery of the slow red dirt that has perplexed so many other heavy hitters. 

    Still working his way back from injury and focusing on the hard courts, Del Potro has only played in two clay court tournaments. The result?

    He won in Estoril, Portugal and reached the round of 16 in the Masters Series in Madrid.

    The wreckage he left along the way? He beat Robin Soderling (5) and Fernando Verdasco in Estoril and knocked off Mikhail Youzhny (12) and Marin Cilic (19) before withdrawing because of injury before his match with world No. 1 Rafael Nadal.

    While playing in two tournaments leaves more to prove, Del Potro is 7-1 on clay with three top 20 wins and a top five win to boot. 

    Throw in his 2009 run to the semifinals here in Paris and it becomes clear why he is a chic pick to end Djokovic's perfect season in the third round. 

6. Nicolas Almagro

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    INDIAN WELLS, CA - MARCH 14:  Nicolas Almagro of Spain returns a shot to Albert Montanes of Spain during the BNP Paribas Open at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden on March 14, 2011 in Indian Wells, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
    Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

    Almagro doesn't have the traditional type of patient, grind it out game that most other clay courters rely on. Instead, Almagro has a penchant for going for the big shots and painting the lines. He clearly hits more than he misses because Almagro is ranked 12th in the world and has been on an absolute tear.

    Already this year Almagro has won three tournaments and been in another final (all on clay), has 17 victories over top 15 players (14 on clay) and has had a long clay court season to prep for the French Open.

    Coming off a win in Nice, Almagro is my pick to make the semifinals at Roland Garros and is certainly worthy of being ranked among the world's clay court elite. 

5. Robin Soderling

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    MADRID, SPAIN - MAY 06:  Robin Soderling of Sweden plays a backhand to Roger Federer of Switzerland during day seven of the Mutua Madrilena Madrid Open Tennis on May 6, 2011 in Madrid, Spain. Federer won the match in straight sets.  (Photo by Jasper Juine
    Jasper Juinen/Getty Images

    You wouldn't think that a guy who relies on power as much as Soderling does would thrive on clay. However illogical it might seem, the slow clay allows Soderling more time to wind up his massive backswing and uncoil even bigger more penetrating shots (I say illogical because for some reason Soderling is the only player that this style works for). 

    Soderling must have a particular affinity for the big stage and particularly the French Open because even though he has posted strong results in other tournaments, he saves his best for Roland Garros. While he has four wins against top 30 players on clay, it is his consecutive French Open finals appearances that pushed him into the top five on this list.

4. David Ferrer

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    PARIS, FRANCE - MAY 22:  David Ferrer of Spain plays a forehand during the men's singles round one match  between David Ferrer of Spain and Jarkko Nieminen of Finland on day one of the French Open at Roland Garros on May 22, 2011 in Paris, France.  (Photo
    Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

    Right now Ferrer and Djokovic are neck and neck in the running for the best clay court player never to win the French Open. Somehow though you get the sense that Djokovic is a lot closer to accomplishing that feat than Ferrer. Certainly, Ferrer is the best dirt baller—possibly of all time—not to get past the quarterfinals at Roland Garros.

    With Federer in the upper half of his draw, I have the feeling that Ferrer might have to wait yet another year.

    The guy is a remarkable player. Many, including Federer, claim Ferrer to have the best return on tour and nobody plays with more heart or desire. Ferrer simply never quits. 

    Ferrer scored a shocking upset against Nadal at the Australian Open leading one to think given his acumen that a similar upset of another top seed would be possibly. However, Ferrer has failed to demonstrate even the slightest hint of that his eight attempts here in Paris.

    That being said, Ferrer's overall record on clay, including winning in Acapulco and finishing runner up at the Masters Series in Monte Carlo and in Barcelona where he lost both matches to Nadal, show he is more than worthy of recognition has a top five clay court specialist. 

3. Novak Djokovic

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    ROME, ITALY - MAY 15:  Novak Djokovic of Serbia celebrates match point during the final against Rafael Nadal of Spain during day eight of the Internazoinali BNL D'Italia at the Foro Italico Tennis Centre on May 15, 2011 in Rome, Italy.  (Photo by Clive Br
    Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

    Can Djokovic really be three after the year he's had? 

    Yes, and its purely a testament to the longevity and greatest of Federer and Nadal in front of him.

    Djokovic's dominance this year has been truly stunning and even more of a pleasure to watch. He has completely and utterly eviscerated the field. 

    To see such complete supremacy at the age of 24 is unheard of. The question now is whether he can continue it. His first big test will be the French Open, Rafa's adopted home turf.

    Looking back however, his performance to date has been extraordinary. 

    So far on clay he has won three straight tournaments (two Masters Series Events) and all 15 of his matches, he's beaten five players ranked in the top five (including Nadal twice) and has only lost three of 29 sets. 


2. Roger Federer

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    ROME, ITALY - MAY 11:  Roger Federer of Switzerland waves to the crowd after his straight sets victory in his second round match against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga of France during day four of the Internazoinali BNL D'Italia at the Foro Italico Tennis Centre on M
    Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

    Unlike Nadal, Federer hasn't lost to Djokovic on clay.... just saying.

    You can make the argument that Novak should be in this spot over Federer. Ok, but would you say the same thing about Novak being number one over Nadal?

    Probably not. 

    Why? Because Nadal has won five of the past six French Opens. That seems logical right? Of course. Nadal has demonstrated a consistent ability to win at the biggest and most famous clay court tournament in the world. 

    Well if Nadal weren't around, there is a strong likelihood that Federer would have a similar 38-1 record on the Parisian clay as Federer lost 4 straight times to Rafa—three in the finals and once in the semifinals—from 2005 to 2009. 

    Without Rafa, Federer is by far and away the world's best clay court player. And grass court player, and hard courts and carpet too...You get the point.

    The way people are talking about Federer this year heading into Paris you'd think he wasn't even ranked. Yes 6-3 on clay isn't Federeresque but there are about 30 players who would take wins over Tsonga, Lopez, Soderling and Cilic any day.

    Simply put, if Nadal is the best on clay, by that same logic Federer is an easy two. 

1. Rafael Nadal

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    ROME, ITALY - MAY 14:  Rafael Nadal of Spain  celebrates victory after his semi final match against Richard Gasquet of France during day seven of the Internazoinali BNL D'Italia at the Foro Italico Tennis Centre  on May 14, 2011 in Rome, Italy.  (Photo by
    Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

    Yeah yeah we get it. 38-1 at the French Open, winner of five of the last six French Opens (one short of tying Bjorn Borg), 18-2 on clay this year including two titles and two runner ups.

    He's the best in the world and even better on clay. End of discussion. The only question that remains; is he the greatest clay court champion ever?

    (And how did he get such big biceps? His trainer swears he never has lifted weights).