The clay court king: Rafael Nadal's emotional farewell to beloved Roland Garros fans


The clay court king: Rafael Nadal's emotional farewell to beloved Roland Garros fans

Rafael Nadal will probably be competing at Roland Garros for the last time at the 2024 French Open
Rafael Nadal will probably be competing at Roland Garros for the last time at the 2024 French OpenAFP
The 2024 French Open is being headlined by a special star. In all likelihood, Rafael Nadal (37) will be competing at Roland Garros for the last time and he will play his first round match against Alexander Zverev (27) on Monday. Over time Nadal became known as the "clay court king" and he has left his mark on modern tennis in so many ways.

Rafael Nadal is not one of the favourites for the title at the French Open this year - for once, experts, bookmakers and fans all agree with that statement.

Following a serious hip injury, his career is gradually drawing to a close. Nadal's athleticism was once his greatest strength but now the Spaniard's body has put a spanner in the works.

Whether his incredible career will actually come to an end at the end of the year has not yet been finalised."There is a big, big chance that this is my last time at Roland Garros, but if you want me to tell you it's 100%, then I won't," said Nadal ahead of the eagerly awaited first round duel against Alexander Zverev.

Zverev (l.) and Nadal (r.) play against each other on Monday afternoon.
Zverev (l.) and Nadal (r.) play against each other on Monday afternoon.Profimedia

Although Zverev recently won the prestigious Rome Masters and is the favourite for this fascinating opening round match, his respect for the clay court king is immense.

"In my head, I have to play against Prime Rafa," said Germany's tennis ace, explaining his approach:"I assume that he will play his best tennis."

Match centre: Alexander Zverev vs Rafael Nadal

Incredible record at the French Open

Rafael Nadal's trophy collection is impressive. 92 titles on the ATP Tour, 22 Grand Slam titles, 14 of them at Roland Garros, a total of 209 weeks at number one in the world rankings: These are figures for the ages.

The veteran has a win rate of 91.2 per cent on clay. He has only suffered three defeats at Roland Garros and hass 112 victories. Nadal is considered almost invincible on the legendary Court Philippe-Chatrier in particular.

A number of top professionals have already experienced his dominance. Novak Djokovic, for example, has been one of his toughest opponents in recent years. In 2021, he inflicted his last defeat to date at the French Open in the semi-finals.

In an interview with The Athletic, the Serbian tried to put the Rafa phenomenon into words. On the large centre court in Paris, Nadal is"like a wall".

He "likes to be quite far back on the return. Sometimes, when he's really in the zone and in the groove and doesn't make many mistakes, you get the feeling that he's untouchable."

A deceptive gameplan 

According to Casper Ruud, hardly any other professional can"read the game as well" as Nadal. And Zverev - who has only won once in six encounters on clay so far - also raves about Nadal

On the Philippe-Chatrier, the Mallorcan is suddenly a different player. The huge court makes it "more difficult to hit a winner" because Nadal manages to get to even the most impossible balls with his "footwork and foot speed":"

"Somehow you have the feeling that you're winning, but in the end you still lose."

Stefanos Tsitsipas explicitly mentioned Nadal as a role model after winning the Masters tournament in Monte-Carlo a few weeks ago:

"I owe many of the big clay court tournaments I've won to him," said the Greek: "His game is a source of inspiration for all players who try to emulate his best qualities on clay."

An incredible forehand

Dozens of other hymns of praise have been sung for Rafael Nadal over the past few years. Time and again, his exceptional physicality has taken centre stage.

Another weapon that has earned Nadal a permanent place in the world's tennis textbooks: his extraordinary forehand. His forehand topspin reaches almost 5,000 revolutions per minute. Even 3,000 revolutions is considered exceptionally strong on the ATP Tour.

His grip position is extreme, with the inside of his hand almost completely under the grip. His technique is often referred to in instructional videos as the "windscreen wiper movement". The torso, legs and not least the racket are in a strong rotational movement.

The racket is directed towards the target point. Nadal's technique gives him a fundamental advantage with high balls, but when the shots come in flat, his style requires the utmost precision.

Amateur players are advised not to imitate this technique - every detail has to be right for it to be successful.

More than just a tennis player: a true superstar

Nadal is not a complete player. For a long time, his backhand and serve have been seen as his greatest weaknesses. He also has never felt completely at home at the net.

Nevertheless, there is no question that he is one of the most successful and influential players of all time. To reduce Nadal's influence to his titles or his spectacular forehand would in no way do his career justice.

His character is also unique. The Spaniard has long since become an icon whose influence and prominence extend far beyond the tennis scene. Not everyone likes Nadal's style of play, which leaves room for criticism - but even the biggest doubters have great respect for his incredible career.

He owes this to his incredible ambition in training as well as his never-ending down-to-earth attitude. Outbursts of anger, rants at the referee and nerve-wracking trash talk are not in his repertoire.

So it's no coincidence that thousands of fans attended his public training session with Holger Rune on Saturday.

Roger Federer: the perfect rival

This unites him with one of his greatest rivals: Roger Federer. The rivalry with the Swiss has characterised the early 21st century. Between 2005 and 2010, only three of a total of 20 Grand Slam titles did not go to Nadal or Federer.

Despite all the competition, Federer appreciates the human skills of the clay court king. When he ended his career in 2022, the duo competed together in doubles at the Laver Cup in London."It showed once again what we mean to each other and how much respect we have for each other," Federer explained at the time.

And in a recently published advertising campaign by fashion designer Louis Vuitton, it became clear what Rafael Nadal and Federer have achieved for the sport.


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