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Rafael Nadal's forehand is like a truck going at 200 kph, says former French star

  • France's Paul-Henri Mathieu faced off against Rafael Nadal at Roland Garros 2006, and pushed him to his very limit.
  • Mathieu likened Rafael Nadal's forehand to a 'truck arriving at 200km/h'.
Namit Kumar
Modified 14 Jun 2020, 03:52 IST
Rafael Nadal
Rafael Nadal

By 2006, Rafael Nadal had become one of the most high-profile teenagers in the world of sport. At age 19 the Spaniard was already a Grand Slam champion (having won Roland Garros in 2005), and he had several ATP titles under his belt too. He had developed a scary specialization on clay, and his mental ability and endurance were second to none.

But there was one match at Roland Garros 2006 that pushed Rafael Nadal to the very limit. And the man at the other end of the net has now spoken up about the unique challenge of facing the Spaniard in Paris.

After having to skip the Australian Open in 2006 due to a foot injury, Nadal swept the European clay season, breaking several records on his way. He defeated Roger Federer in the final of the Monte Carlo Masters, and Tommy Robredo in the final in Barcelona a week after. He then defeated Federer in the final of the Rome Masters in a five-set epic, saving two match points along the way.

Rafael Nadal during the 2006 French Open
Rafael Nadal during the 2006 French Open

Nadal's 2006 triumph in Paris was again built on relentless aggression from the baseline, in the process of which he broke Argentinian Guillermo Vilas's 29-year male record of 53 consecutive clay-court match victories. During the course of the tournament, Nadal defeated the likes of Robin Soderling, Lleyton Hewitt and Ivan Ljubicic in routine fashion.

However, his greatest challenge came at the hands of hometown favourite Paul-Henri Mathieu, who was ranked 28th in the draw. The two claycourt experts waged a thrilling four-set battle in the third round that lasted nearly five hours, with Nadal eventually winning 5-7, 6-4, 6-4, 6-4.

In a recent Instagram Live chat with We Are Tennis France on Wednesday, Mathieu reminisced about his encounter with Rafael Nadal, touching upon his incredible power and ability even at that young age. The former French No. 1 claimed that it was a match that he marked for the rest of his life.

Felt like a truck arriving at 200kmph: Mathieu on Rafael Nadal's forehand

Rafael Nadal during the 2006 French Open
Rafael Nadal during the 2006 French Open

When asked about the encounter, Mathieu recounted that despite being the crowd favourite, facing a young Rafael Nadal on Court Philippe-Chatrier was a trying experience. The Frenchman said:

"On clay, I have never felt a ball as heavy as that of Nadal in the racket. Forehand, it is indescribable, one has the impression of having a truck which arrives at 200 km / h," Mathieu said.
"To give an idea, if you don't anticipate the rebound, you have no chance of controlling the ball," he added.

Rafael Nadal went on to beat Novak Djokovic with ease in the quarter-final, before again defeating Roger Federer in the final with a score of 1-6, 6-1, 6-4, 7-6 (7).

Nadal's prowess on clay was well-known even then, but nobody could have anticipated what was to come next. The Spaniard today has 12 Roland Garros titles, 25 Masters 1000 titles on clay, and the Open Era record of 59 titles on the surface.

However, Paul-Henri Mathieu's knowledge of the Rafael Nadal phenomenon back in 2006 certainly foreshadowed his success.

Published 14 Jun 2020, 03:52 IST
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