It’s the same story almost every year – the clay season comes around and it immediately becomes The Rafael Nadal Show.
Nadal is just one month shy of his 32nd birthday, and he’s just as dominant on the surface as he was when he was 19.
He enters Madrid carrying a 19-match winning streak on the red dirt, and having won his last 46 consecutive sets on the surface.
For his rivals hoping to share the spoils, it must be frustrating knowing how limited their chances become when the season passes through European clay.
They also know that in order to win a clay-court title this stretch, they will more than likely have to defeat Nadal in order to pull it off.
Here’s what some of his biggest rivals said about Nadal’s clay-court reign.
Juan Martin del Potro (world No. 6)
Yes. But first you have to win a lot of matches before a Rafa match. But Rafa or Roger (Federer) are the favorites in all tournaments. We already know how it works. When we move to grass, Roger will be the favorite to win all the tournaments on grass. We already know that. I think Rafa is playing so good, but other guys have chances to beat him. We already made it in the past, so we can repeat this year. But, of course, Rafa has everything to keep winning. We just do what we can against him.
If Rafa keeps winning, I think it’s normal. But if we do good results playing against him, could be a surprise. We are looking forward to surprise him.
Dominic Thiem (world No. 7)
(Beating Rafa on clay) It’s one of the most difficult things in sport to do that, but on a good day, for some players I think it’s possible. Especially here in Madrid and in Rome, I think the chances are the highest. Because out of all the clay-court tournaments, I think here and in Rome it’s the most difficult for him. Still of course he’s playing amazing also in these tournaments but for the other players it’s a bit easier because it’s faster and a little bit higher bounce and everything.
Grigor Dimitrov (world No. 4)
For me personally that pushes me to do better and to work on the things I feel I can do better. It’s nice to have such a measuring cup (stick) so to speak, which is arguably the greatest player out there on clay, not arguably, he’s the greatest for me on clay. And just the way he plays, in a way you know how the ball is going to be, where it’s going to come and yet there’s not much you can do, but this is something that I enjoy a lot.
I love practicing against him, I love playing matches. I think it’s great to have a reference in a way, a reference like that to improve yourself. And yet you go after practice and you always try to see what else I could have done better, this shot wasn’t good enough, what can I do better? That itself pushes you to do better.
You have to try to exploit his weaknesses. He still has weaknesses and I think you can find them but the problem is sustaining that for whatever time during the match or best-of-five sets, it’s a whole other conversation.
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