It is a contradiction that tennis, a sport formerly synonymous with white uniforms has Rafael Nadal as one of its greatest ever players, the undoubted king of clay – a surface that does some disservice to anything white.
Apart from the $1.2 million prize money cheque and the 1,000 ATP Rankings points that secured his No.1 spot for another four weeks, Nadal earned new respect last week in Monte Carlo and is not relenting this week in Barcelona.
The Mallorca-native is a sporting phenomenon – there is no doubting that and he further confirmed that status last Sunday when he won the ATP Masters 1000 tournament in Monaco for an unprecedented 11th time.
In one of his more profound quotes, Nadal said: “If you don’t lose, you can’t enjoy victories. You have to accept both things.” He has had more wins – about 92 per cent on clay, than losses on clay and one wonders if that would change any time soon and when it changes, what it would signify.
“It is very special,” Nadal added. “But 11 titles here, it’s unbelievable, so it’s something difficult to imagine. I always say the same: If I did it, somebody else can do it.
“But it is very difficult. I really don’t know how these things can happen because it is lot of years without making mistakes and without being unlucky in this week. I have been unlucky other weeks, but not this week.
“The history with this tournament is unique. To put another trophy in my museum, in my academy, is going to be something great. Eleven is a lot, especially here in Monte-Carlo.”
But it is with the same passion and aggression that he is chasing an 11th title in Barcelona, where he defeated the always-dangerous-on-clay Martin Klizan to reach another Barcelona Open semi-final.
Klizan had beaten Nadal at the 2014 China Open 2014 and taken sets off him at Roland Garros and Wimbledon – their three previous meetings but on Friday, he won only five games in total.
But on Friday, the Slovak was swept off the court in a 6-0 first blitz. But a bad service game opened the door for Klizan, but that door was finally shut 7-5. Klizan became the first player to take more than four games off the world No.1 in 2108 on clay
In 2017, he won his 10th titles at Monte Carlo, Barcelona and the Grand Slam, the French Open. In 2018, he already has an 11th Monte Carlo title, is in the semi-finals of the Barcelona Open while looking good for another triumph in Paris. The number is now 11 for the king of clay!
It is thus easy to conclude that when Nadal imperiousness on clay recedes, then it might be his curtain call.
“I know the day to say goodbye is closer than 10 years ago. It is something that I am not worried about, but it is a real thing. So I am just enjoying every day and trying to play with the best attitude possible, to keep being happy playing tennis. That’s all,” he said after his triumph in Monte Carlo.
Succinct declaration from Nadal! We look ahead to many more wins on clay, as with any other surface, but much more we look forward to learning from a player, who dogged by serious injuries, has always displayed the determination to fight back every time no matter the odds using the clay courts as his foundation. Really, that is all life asks of all of us!