Rafael Nadal's eternal love for clay
Globetrotting all throughout the season, the life of a tennis professional is undeniably gruesome, but the rewards are indeed plentiful, not just from a financial sense. For some, the long trawl around the globe has often been a cradle for thriving courtships. Who could ever forget the enduring romance of two all-time greats, Andre Agassi and Steffi Graf, who cemented their love off the court at the 1999 French Open Champions ball, or the ever-charming couple of Roger Federer and Mirka Federer who decided it was game, set and match when they represented Switzerland at the Sydney Olympics in 2000?
But, for more than a decade now, something of even more epic proportions has blossomed profoundly and has transformed into a perfect romance.
On one side, a Spanish Matador, an epitome of physique carved by obsession and dominance built on power and ruthless application of superior strength. His lucky charm, on the other hand, is the kryptonite of tennis, known for denuding demigods of their strength. Its unforgiving nature has shattered many a dream but the Spaniard has always been its irrepressible force. An affair that hasn't suffered despite persistent sabbaticals, the pure sight of Rafael Nadal, flat on his back in red clay, triumphant over and over again for close to 14 long years is one of the most iconic moments we have ever witnessed in tennis, let alone in the entire sports industry.
There is, in fact, no one in this world who can make a tennis star feel more inadequate than Rafa on a clay court. His dominance spans more than just a two-week tournament in Paris. The spectators gaze in awe whenever he is behind the baseline pulling off that legendary and lethal running forehand. In the blink of an eye, he can switch from defense to offense, better than anyone to have ever played the game.
In fact, his colossal topspin groundstrokes that can torment even the greatest are why he is the master of the clay court. No matter how good his opponents are, when beast mode kicks in, he makes them look like one-dimensional players. He extirpates them to the point that they are forced to throw in the towel and that's why Rafa’s domination on clay transcends the sport of tennis.
Bjorn Borg, Gustavo Kuerten, Justine Henin, Chris Evert and Thomas Muster were some of the biggest names synonymous with clay court tennis. But truth be told, Nadal is tied with no one and has no close second when it comes to clay court mastery. He racked up clay court titles at a brisk rate during the peak of his career, including a high of seven in 2005.
Even after all these years, his only noteworthy rival on clay is his health. His physical, swashbuckling style of play has proven to be punishing to his body, and yet we can always see him somehow claw his way back despite all the major or minor setbacks, for he is a gladiator, one with the mindset of a true champion.
Have we ever thought of a scenario where a player would be attempting to win a tournament he has already won 10 times in the past? Not just once, but on three occasions this spring, Rafa will have his eyes set on La Undécima, in Monte Carlo, Barcelona and Roland Garros. This rare feat is emblematic of why he is called the King of Clay. More than just a player, he seems in some ways to be an explorer as well, venturing where no athlete has.
No one in tennis has come close to doing what Nadal has done on clay. He might not go down as the G.O.A.T, but his sheer domination of clay court tennis is undisputedly the greatest accomplishment in the history of individual sports. He is now feeding his romance by remaining deeply in love with the game and relishing what may follow in his path to achieve immortality.