Since 2005, Rafael Nadal has been a force to be reckoned with on clay, he has established himself as the dominant force on the red dirt and has been catapulted into the pantheon of greats at Rolland Garros.
To say the Spaniard has been imperious on clay would be somewhat of an understatement. Nadal is a denizen to clay; his play style is cemented to the surface and it has taken since 2005 to reach his exalted rank on his favourite court.
Suggested Image: Rafa Nadal on clay
Nadal is the defending champion at the French Open and has a record 13 titles attached to his esteemed tennis résumé. The tennis playing veteran dispatched Novak Djokovic in 2020 at Rolland Garros, beating the world-number in straight sets.
The 34-year-old shows no sign of slowing down and voices that he has more Grand Slams to capture, but what of the players that put the French Open titan to the sword on the red dirt. Who’s beaten the Nadal on clay?
Rafael Nadal remains the favourite in the tennis odds to defend his title at Roland Garros, but what of others aiming to dethrone the clay-court warrior? Let’s have a look at the players that dethroned the King of Clay on the very surface that made him into the player he is.
Fabio Fognini Shocks Rafa
Five weeks before the 2019 French Open, the 11-time Monte Carlo champion strutted out to face the unheralded Fabio Fognini in the semi-finals of the Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters.
The flamboyant Italian was happy to have got as far as he had, not expecting much against a man who seemed to had been born on a clay court. Nadal had bested Fognini in six consecutive ATP Head2Head clashes, winning 12 of their 14 sets.
However, Fognini was unafraid as the he entered the contest producing some truly tantalising tennis. The heavy underdog showcased some of the best tennis of his career, stunning Nadal with a plethora of winners beating the Spaniard 6-4, 6-2 to reach the Monte Carlo finals eventually winning the tournament.
Robin Soderling Beats Nadal on Home Soil
Rafael Nadal headed into his 2009 contest against the battle-hardened Robin Soderling having won all 31 of his matches on the Parisian clay, and all of his best-of-five-set clay-court matches, but these records are built to be broken.
Soderling pulled off what remains one of the biggest upsets in tennis history. The Swede, who ascended as high as No. 4 in the ATP Rankings, handed Nadal his first loss at Roland Garros, stunning the Spaniard.
Suggest Image: Robin Soderling
The Swede served well, defending his second serve with pinpoint precision and took every opportunity to attack. Soderling’s ground game was flawless and avoided any cheap unforced errors.
Soderling’s herculean performance dealt Nadal an early 4th round exit sealing a 6-4 6-4 victory.
Diego Schwartzman Deals Defeat
Schwartzman joined the short list of men to dismantle Rafael Nadal on clay as he beat the nine-time Rome champion in a convincing 6-2, 7-5. The Argentine, who was 0-9 against Nadal coming in, was the far superior player on the slow playing surface.
Schwartzman broke Nadal twice in the first set. Nadal rallied in the second, but the plucky underdog got another break. The challenger had a chance to get his first win over the King of Clay in the second set, but fell apart serving for it at 5-4.
Suggested Image: Diego Schwartzman
However, he held strong and was able to promptly break Nadal immediately and then served it out for his biggest win of his career against the best player to ever wield a racket on the red dirt.
Stan Wawrinka Bests Nadal
Nadal and Wawrinka locked horns for the first time since the 2014 Australian Open final where the Swiss emerged victorious sealing his first Grand Slam win. Nadal was still leading their rivalry 12-1 and was starting to build confidence ahead of his favourite tournament the French Open.
However, Wawrinka thrashed all hopes of the Spaniard making it to the last four in Rome by knocking Nadal off his stride, beating him 7-6 (7), 6-2. After several breaks and some long rallies, the first set went to a tie break where the Swiss demonstrated his strong desire to draw first blood.
Suggested Image: Wawrinka
Warwinka broke Nadal’s serve twice in the second set and saved seven of his nine break points to send the Spaniard packing. “I didn’t have enough leg in some moments today. He played crazy. He hit amazing shots in a lot of moments and especially important ones,” Nadal said.
“I am not very happy with the way I played,” Nadal added. “During the night the ball is bigger, the bounces are not that high. So he has the chance to go for it. And he was on fire.”
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