When Rafael Nadal dispatched a little known Argentine, Edurado Schwank in straight sets to reach the fourth round of the French Open at Roland Garros, the career statistics of the Spaniard in terms of victories against defeats read 48-1 on the only Grand Slam event which is played on Red Clay. This clearly indicates the dominance the six times champion has enjoyed on the french mud all these years, since winning his first French open and that too, on his debut.
Be it any sport, a team or a player losing only once out of the 49 matches played is not a joke and to see it happening in a game of tennis is nothing short of extraordinary. Nadal’s game, marked by remarkable quickness and very limited unforced errors, really suited his style of play from the baseline and it has proved to be a perfect match for playing on Clay Courts. Barring one ordinary game, which Nadal played on that fateful afternoon in the year 2009 against Robin Soderling, Rafa has never faced defeat against any opponent, whoever it may be. Such was the dominance of Rafa on clay that even the great Roger Federer was left clueless on all occasions whenever he played against Rafa in French Open.
Speaking of Roger Federer’s miserable show at the French Open finals, winning only one of the five finals played by him, we cannot, however, discount his own exploits on, perhaps, the most embellished surface of tennis which is stuffed with grass. If Rafa claims to have ruled the clay courts of French Open, then Federer started his kingship on grass courts a couple of years earlier itself. One masterful display against Philippousis in the Wimbledon final in the year 2003 started it all for Federer. Then, during the following two consecutive years, i.e. 2004 and 2005, Roddick accompanied him to the Centre court on the first Sunday of July and on both occasions, the former was left to deliver the runner’s up address. Then, in the following years of 2006 and 2007, Roger settled the score following his losses to Nadal at French Open by beating him in back to back finals at Wimbledon. With that exploit, Roger equaled Bjorn Borg’s record of 5 consecutive Wimbledon titles.
So, in all, Roger had been in five consecutive Wimbledon finals till 2007 winning all of them. In Nadal’s case though, he won four consecutive finals between 2005 and 2008 and thereafter suffered an upset at the hands of Robin Soderling in the fourth round, like I stated, earlier in the year 2009. So, he could never get his fifth successive title in France.
Till 2009, if one has to look back and analyse which was the better dominance- whether it was Roger’s artistry on grass or Nadal’s efforts on French soil, I will have to go with Roger. This is simply because Roger had been into seven Wimbledon finals from 2003-2009, winning six of them and the only time he lost was in 2008 in an epic five setter against Rafael Nadal which was played overtime amidst rain interruptions. So, effectively from 2003, if we take into account that for a person to win a grand slam he needs to win seven matches in a row, Federer should have played 49 matches and like Rafael Nadal finding himself as on today, and had lost only one of them. Whereas, in Rafa’s case, he had won four consecutive French Open titles and lost in the fourth round in 2009 which means the total tally of victories should be 31 out of the 32 matches played for him. Infact, the year 2008 was one year where Federer suffered back to back defeats against Nadal in both Roland Garros and Wimbledon but still that defeat in Wimbledon came to him only after a 41 matches winning streak, which is far better than 31 for Nadal.
Now, if we look into the period post 2009 till date, Rafa’s dominance on French has really pushed Roger’s dominance on grass down rock bottom. Infact, Nadal, after his brief mishap in 2009, raised his game to another level in the following years. He had a dream year in 2010 throughout, wherein he won not only in his favourite surface on clay but also on Wimbledon and US open, also thereby completing his career slam. But, in Roger’s case, it was in the year 2009 where he won his last Wimbledon, which was incidentally his sixth and he is now still one behind the Greek American Pete Sampras, who has a record seven titles on grass to his credit.
Ruling Grass for such a long duration, for the last two years however, he had been eliminated in the quarterfinal stages itself and incredibly those matches had been against Thomas Berdych and Jo Wilfred Tsonga who had even not been in Top 5 of the ATP rankings. Against Berdych in 2010, Roger had lost in straight sets (quite unexpectedly) and in 2011, it was even worse. Leading 2 sets to love and looking set to close out the match on third, Federer, suddenly saw his game deteriorating and the power game of Tsonga took the centre stage. From the third set, Federer could not break Tsonga even once, eventually losing the next three sets. Infact, this was the first time, Federer , in his career, lost a match after leading two sets to love.
A leading grass courter like Federer, crumbling in the quarter finals in the last two years to the players who were not even half as good as him, clearly indicates that the grasses are no more green to Federer. But, Nadal has continued to dominate on Clay after his brief slump in 2009 and still is the defending champion as the quarter final stages are about to be decided this year. This augurs well in Nadal’s case as to how good he has been on clay vis a vis Federer on Grass court.
There is also one way to look at it and establish that Nadal in Clay is tougher than Federer on Grass. Even at this year’s French Open, when all others are taken for four or five setters, including Federer and Djokovic, Nadal has not even lost a single set, as it stands now. Even when he lost to Soderling in the fourth round, he lost in four sets and like I said, Federer’s loss in Wimbledon against Berdych was in straight sets. While Federer lost a match against Tsonga after leading two sets to love on grass, Nadal won a match against Isner after yielding a 2 sets to love lead to his opponent on clay. Federer had lost sets to lesser ranked opponents on some occasions but it has never been the case with Rafa. On his favourite territory, Nadal just destroys his opponent without yielding a set if they are not as good as him. But, the same cannot be said about Federer as he has lost sets to players like Roddick, Juan Carlos Ferrero and so on, even if he was on the winning side.
So territory-wise domination, if one has to take into account, it is Rafa who looks to be winning hands down when compared to Roger Federer. Fedex would be looking to even scores soon by ensuring Grass courts belong to him, at least for the next couple of years.