Rafael Nadal's French Open win: How does the King of Clay rate among the greats?

Nassos Stylianou
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Rafael Nadal celebrates his 9th French Open victory (Source: Reuters)

It may have come a few days after one Spanish monarch announced his abdication, but Rafael Nadal was in no mood to relinquish his crown as the King of Clay yesterday.

The world number one came back from a set down to beat Novak Djokovic in four sets to claim his fifth consecutive French Open in a row, taking his tally at Roland Garros to nine.

Djokovic had won the four previous meetings between the pair, including the Rome Masters on clay but Nadal raised his game when it mattered most once again to collect another French Open.

With that victory, the Spaniard equalled Pete Sampras on 14 grand slam titles, second only to Roger Federer on 17.

The chart below shows how each of the top ten male players in the Open Era, the period from 1968 where professionals could compete in the big tournaments, has won their slams.

Sampras never won the French Open and while Nadal is one of just three players in the last 45 years to have won a career slam, securing all four Majors, 65 per cent of his grand slam wins have come in Paris.

This is a higher percentage than any other player in the top 10 has recorded for any single tournament, showing how much Nadal’s supreme dominance on clay has contributed to his exceptional record.

Federer’s quality on a grass surface is clear from the chart and he could overtake Sampras in terms of Wimbledon wins were he to come out on top in SW19 during the summer.

However with US and Australian Open victories totalling 29.4 and 23.6 per cent of the Swiss player’s total Major titles respectively, his all-time record is much more evenly spread across the various slams than that of Nadal.

Out of the players who have won all four top prizes in the game, Nadal is more of a specialist on clay while Andre Agassi was the supreme hard court player, with 75 per cent of his Major victories coming either in the US or Australia.

Djokovic, even though he is not on the list as he has just the six grand slams wins to date, has a similar record to Agassi, with five of six victories coming on a hard court.

Nadal’s supreme quality with a racket and his immense contribution to this golden era of men’s tennis were never in doubt before yesterday’s emotional victory.

But following up his latest triumph in Paris with a third Wimbledon title or a US Open in September would probably go someway towards answering the critics who see him as more of a clay court specialist than one of the greatest tennis players of all time.

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