Wimbledon 2011: Rafael Nadal's Time to Shed the 'King of Clay' Title?

Sriram IlangoCorrespondent IJune 14, 2011

PARIS, FRANCE - JUNE 05:  Champion Rafael Nadal of Spain bites the trophy following his record equalling sixth victory during the men's singles final match between Rafael Nadal of Spain and Roger Federer of Switzerland on day fifteen of the French Open at Roland Garros on June 5, 2011 in Paris, France.  (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)
Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

The very fact that Rafael Nadal has won six out of his 10 major titles on the clay of Paris misrepresents his dominance as the best player across all surfaces. He has achieved the career Grand Slam and now has very little pressure to add any particular major to his résumé. What he has to do is shed the title of "King of Clay," which skews his achievements on other surfaces.

It was amusing for me to see Nadal lift his record sixth French Open trophy after playing rather unconvincingly in the first few games. This year, Nadal's arrival at France was not like the previous years. He had suffered two defeats at the hands of Novak Djokovic in the clay-court Master Series tournaments at Madrid and Rome. Many people thought that Nadal's grip on the French Open trophy might loosen a little.

The first week of the Championship proved that those critics were right. The five-time champion was stretched to a five-setter by John Isner in his first-round match. This was the first time that Rafa was stretched to a five-setter at Roland Garros. But Nadal shrugged off his physical and mental impediments and set up a semifinal showdown against Andy Murray.

In that game, Nadal's forehands were exquisite. He hit them deep, and he hit them with perfect angles to deny Britain their first major champion in more than 75 years.

He faced his nemesis and the man he owned on clay, Roger Federer, in the finals. Nadal survived some of Federer's best play on clay to wrap up the match in four sets. The great reach and defensive play of Nadal meant that Federer missed even the simplest of closing shots.

It is true that this was a hard-earned Championship victory for Nadal rather than his sandstorm in 2008, where he won without dropping a set. "In 2008 I think I played better than ever, but I finished the tournament and I didn't feel that I won Roland Garros because I won in three sets. When you come back after a tough situation, it makes the tournaments and the victories more special for sure,” said Nadal. It is true, isn't it? A hard-earned victory is better than everything else!

This sixth French Open triumph of Nadal equals Bjorn Borg's total. Also at 25, Nadal is the second-youngest man after Borg to win 10 major titles. With at least five more years of tennis with him, Nadal has every chance to break Roger Federer's tally of 16 titles.

But another factor which will determine the way Nadal's career will end up is his performance in other majors.

Nadal now has two Wimbledon titles, one US Open and one Australian Open along with his half dozen French Open titles. If he wins in other places, it will help in doing two things: One, of course, it will help him to shed the claysmith title, and two, it will take him closer to Federer's tally of 16.

Nadal's first Wimbledon title came against Federer, who enjoys the same comfort in SW19 as Nadal does in Paris. Federer has often said that winning at Wimbledon is his topmost priority. He has also ended Djokovic's 43-match winning streak, and he is not to be taken lightly. However, the mighty Federer's dominance seems to take a hit when he faces Nadal, against whom he suffers a 2-6 deficit in major finals. Djokovic on the other hand seems like an even more potent threat. 

Nadal just hung on to his No. 1 ranking thanks to Federer defeating Djokovic at Roland Garros. Wimbledon's fast courts will definitely favor the Serbian, who arguably has the best court movement of this period. For a player of Djokovic's caliber, winning the biggest prize in tennis will give a huge morale boost. He pulled out of Queen's citing injury, and that will give him some hard-earned rest.

Nadal will also have to upset the whole of Britain's hope, Andy Murray, and the Argentine Juan Martin del Potro, against whom he suffered the worst defeat in his Grand Slam career (2-6, 2-6, 2-6 in 2009 US Open semifinals).

Big servers find their best form in Wimbledon. The raising Milos Raonic and the former finalist Andy Roddick will have a huge advantage at SW19.

Nadal will have to summon some carronades of his own if he is to land a third Wimbledon title.