Simply put, Rafael Nadal is the best clay court player of all time. Nobody can take that distinction away from the Mallorca legend. The Spaniard is simply unstoppable when he grinds it out on his favorite red surface. Even Novak Djokovic, a physical specimen in his own right and a more complete player than Nadal, is yet to solve the puzzle on the clay courts of Paris.
But one must not forget the loopholes in Nadal’s legacy.
Sheer dependence on physical gifts
Nadal simply depends on his physical abilities to cover the baseline and return shots that other players simply can’t reach. Another understated advantage Rafa has over his arch rivals is his left-handed forehand. This makes it tougher to pass him in rallies and allows the Spaniard to wear out his opponents with his superior physical abilities.
While these physical gifts are magnified on his favorite clay, he finds it much harder to do these things on hard courts and grass. Sliding around on the baseline gets much harder and riskier, while the faster surfaces also allow opponents to take advantage of his inconsistent serving, questionable net game, shaky drop shots and mediocre tactical arsenal.
Insane winning percentage on clay only
Yes, Nadal already has 13 Slams in his bag. But take away the titles in France and you’re looking at a 5 -time champion, which suddenly takes away the shine from his CV. To be called the greatest player of all times, you have to show the adaptability Roger Federer and Bjorn Borg had during their peaks. This is simply not the case with Nadal.
People like to point out Nadal’s winning record against the great Swiss maestro Federer. But one must not forget that Roger has won 17 slams, split evenly on all surfaces. Yes, he has only one French Open title to his name, but one must not forget that he reached 4 finals in Paris, finishing second to the greatest clay court player of the modern era.
Besides these two huge question marks on his tennis legacy, Nadal also is not liked by many tennis purists due to his on-court demeanor. The questionable behavior with his water bottles, his service ritual which includes countless “intimate touches” and other distracting techniques make quite a few spectators uncomfortable and even irritated at times.
By the time he’s done, Nadal will surely be an all-time top-5 player. His overall record is too impressive to be ignored. But his lack of consistency on hard courts and his inability to win the ATP Tour Finals time after time are proof that he’ll never be able to overtake Federer in the history books. The Swiss genius’s place at the top of the mountain is already cemented.