Rafael Nadal, 32, is the undoubted king of the clay in world tennis, his stats, records and titles speak volume. 11 out of Nadal’s total of 17 grand slam titles was won on the clay court at the French Open, 11 Monte-Carlo Masters’ titles(Roquebrune-cap-Martin, France), 11 Barcelona Open titles, 8 Italian Open titles, 5 Madrid Open titles among many other Nadal’s clay court laurels. However, exiting from 2 of his hunting ground in quick succession in such an unfancy manner is what many newspaper tabloids have captioned to be the end of Nadal’s dominance on clay court.
It all started at the Monte-Carlo Masters at Roquebrune-Cap-Martin, France. Rafael Nadal lost straight 4-6, 2-6 in the semi-final to ATP 12th-ranked player, Italian, Fabio Fognini. The ATP 2nd-ranked Spaniard was below par in his defeat. Nadal was aiming to defend the title for the 4th time in a row, having won the tournament back-to-back since 2016, a victory over Fognini would have marked his 12th title overall since his maiden win in 2005. Nadal’s hope was dashed by the Italian who brushed Nadal aside, and achieve his 4th career win over Nadal(who had 11 wins), Fogbini’s previous wins over Nadal were 2 times on clay court, outdoors, Rio De Janeiro, Brazil and Barcelona, Spain both in 2015 and also, on hard court, US Open, also 2015.
As if it was not a set back enough for Nadal, He followed up a disappointing Monte-Carlo Master semi-final exit with another semi-final exit at the Barcelona Open, just 8 days later. This time, Nadal’s conqueror was Austrian, Dominic Thiem. Yet again, Nadal was aiming to defend the Barcelona Open for the 4th time in a row since 2016, he had previously won the Barcelona Open 11 times too since his 1st in 2005( including a run of 5 straight titles from 2005-2009). Nadal’s run-in to the Barcelona Open semis includes, a hard-fought round-of-32 3 sets win over unseeded Argentine, Leonardo Mayer, 6(7)-7(9), 6-4, 6-2 Nadal won, then was a straight 6-3, 6-3 round of 16 win over fellow Spaniard, another unseeded, David Ferrer, and a tight straight 7-5, 7-5 win over German’s Jan-Lennard Struff in the quarter-finals.
Nadal’s play against Thiem was less impressive, 5 double faults compared to Thiem’s none, just 1 Ace all sets compared to Thiem’s total of 5, amongst other unimpressive display on the night. Like Fognini, Thiem now has 4 career win over Nadal( who has 8), Thiem previous win includes 2016 semi-final win in Buenos Aires, 2017 ATP Masters 1000 in Rome, and 2018 ATP Masters 1000 in Monaco, all clay surfaces. Thiem straight 6-4, 6-4 easy dispatch of Nadal on his preferred and favoured clay surface now brings to mind the burning question, Is Rafael Nadal fading away as the clay court king? or is it just a couple of setbacks that will quickly be forgotten as soon as he regains his full fitness?
Some fans and pundits have stood up in defence of the Spaniard though, He had gone through a lot in recent time, a re-occurring injury to his knee especially, he needed to be cut some slack really. Coming that close to a tournament win after those setbacks, since his last in August 2018(Toronto’s Rogers Cup) deserves some commendation. However, will Nadal get his hands on a trophy soon as the spring clay season comes thick and fast? especially defend the upcoming French Open and win it for the 12th times, It is a burning question that needs a swift response from the king himself.
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That will be all for now, thank you all for your time.