The 2012 French Open is over. Over as well is any debate concerning who is the greatest male clay court player of all time.
Nadal’s complete destruction of the deepest draw of the best male players on this planet was, to say the least, astonishing.
In breaking the tie with Bjorn Borg of six French Open titles, he lost only one set. It was an exceedingly dominant performance over the two week period. And it took Novak Djokovic, the number one ranked player in the world, to wrestle away that single set.
If it was up to Nadal, he wouldn’t lose a single point much less an entire set. You can rest assured the one lost to Djokovic was conceded grudgingly.
Nadal’s onslaught on the clay court season began with a thrashing of the field of 64 in Monte Carlo where he didn’t drop a set en route to his eighth consecutive title there.
From Monte Carlo, “the soldier” marched into Barcelona where again he swept through the draw without dropping a set to establish a record seventh consecutive win of that event.
Was no tournament safe from the ravages of “the soldier?”
As he marched into Madrid, an imaginative scenario might have included the city populace jokingly fretting amongst themselves, “The soldier is coming, lock away the women and hide the children.”
But Rafa met with strange and unfamiliar circumstances in Madrid. The tournament was to be contested on a new surface comprised of blue clay rather than the traditional red stuff.
Both Novak and Rafa, the number one and two players in the world, joined by a legion of others, protested the surface change, particularly it’s advent in mid-season. Despite dissatisfaction the players played and the tournament continued as scheduled.
But there clearly were problems with the dreaded blue clay. It did not play similarly to red clay. The top surface was slippery. It impeded player maneuverability. Even tournament owner Ion Tiriac acknowledged that the surface was imperfect.
Not surprisingly, Nadal and Djokovic lost in the mid rounds. Both men stated that they would seriously consider skipping Madrid in 2013 if the surface problems are not rectified.
But Nadal, not one to brood, and as if to demonstrate that his loss in Madrid was an aberration, marched into Rome and took down the title for a record sixth time. As in Monte Carlo, Djokovic was his final victim.
The French was the culmination of a nearly flawless clay court season for Nadal.
No man in the open era has been so utterly dominant on dirt. While it is mind boggling, it’s neither luck nor divine intervention and it doesn’t defy explanation. There are logical reasons underlying his ongoing success.
Nadal is a man with an indomitable spirit and unparallelled work ethic. He is humble and grounded by family and a sense of his place within that unit. He is no more or no less important than each member of their tight-knit group.
Rafael Nadal is a champion, the likes of which we may never see on clay again. Though records are “made to be broken,” Nadal has rewritten tennis history at the age of 26. It’s difficult to envision anyone duplicating his accomplishments.
It goes without saying that he continues to improve because he continues to work at it. Nadal even views a loss not as a defeat but as an opportunity to improve some facet of his game. It’s this dedicated mindset that enables him to rise up while others cave in.
He has continually silenced his doubters, critics and detractors with action rather than words. When healthy, he gives no less than 100% effort on each point of each game of each set of every match.
That’s Rafa. He’s a man, a champion, a record setter.
He’s a winner.
He has the courage to pursue and uphold his convictions. And he does so relentlessly.
Rafael Nadal is the GOAT (greatest of all time) on red clay.
He is the soldier.