Nadal is back and clay has been instrumental in his return as a champion. Not that Nadal has not been a force on the hard courts this year, after all he has reached three hard court finals already and it took a Query serving out of his skin in Acapulco, and the resurgent Maestro playing the most scintillating and aggressive brand of tennis in the Australian Open and Miami finals to halt his march in those tournaments. However, it took clay to reestablish the Bull in the champion’s circle yet again.
The 2017 Monte Carlo journey saw the return of Nadal in his confident, and rampaging bull avatar. He gained in confidence from one match to the next and that forehand which had lacked depth at crucial moments until then was re-transformed into the lethal spinning demolition shot that had made him such a dominant force until a few years ago. By the finals Nadal had recovered his mojo and was whipping those down the lines, cross-courts and inside outs with abandon to announce his return as a winner to the tennis world.
So why is Nadal still so effective on clay when he has, for most part, lost the awe factor on hard courts?
Nadal grew up on clay and therefore knows how to exploit its strengths and weaknesses really well. He fully understood that clay offered him more time to take those big helicopter swings at the ball to produce that mind-boggling top-spin which not only makes the ball rise higher but also renders it heavier thereby making the opponent’s body incrementally more tired and will weaker with each engaging rally. He also understood that his brand of tennis which was edging towards counter-punching and grinding rather than finishing his opponent into submission would require him to have tons of patience, loads of stamina, exceptional and explosive movement, indomitable will and the physical strength of Hercules. He then made sure that he acquired or developed all of those essential attributes at whatever cost, which in his case was paid with more than his fair share in injuries and extended lay-offs.
Yes, Nadal is great on other surfaces too but he is essentially a clay court player who has also excelled on hard and grass courts, and that is obvious from his highly lopsided record 50 titles including 9 slams on clay versus 20 titles and 5 slams on both hard and grass courts combined!
Like Roger who has an aggressive play style which he modifies to grind, when required, on clay or elsewhere, Nadal basically has a clay court counter-puncher’s and grinder’s game which he has so efficiently modified to excel on other surfaces. His two Wimbledon, one Australian and 2 Us Open titles only go to prove that while grass may not only be for cows, clay however is for the Bull only.