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The king of clay reclaims his throne

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Jonathan Overend | 19:32 UK time, Sunday, 6 June 2010

And so Rafael Nadal is back ruling his clay-court kingdom and we shouldn't be remotely surprised.

To close the red-shale season unbeaten, with a perfect record from his seven matches at Roland Garros, emphasised his superiority on the slowest surface.

His win over Robin Soderling, in a dominant final performance, also emphasised that his defeat in 2009 - his only loss in six years here - probably requires an asterisk in the history books.

The 2009 Rafa, beaten by the Swede in the fourth round then to pull out of Wimbledon, was let down by troublesome knees and shaken by unexpected family issues when his parents split up.

He went for almost an entire year without a title - from Rome 2009 to Monte Carlo 2010 - but now he has won four in a row, three Masters and one major.

The barren spell was similar, in many ways, to that endured by Roger Federer from October 2008 to Madrid 2009. The Swiss predictably rebounded by winning the French and Wimbledon last summer and Nadal appears more than capable of managing the same feat.

Collapsing to the ground not once but twice emphasised the importance of this victory and the importance of the journey he has taken.

Rafael Nadal collapses to the ground after winning his fifth French Open titleNadal joined Bjorn Borg as the only man to have won five or more French Open titles. Photograph: AP.

We love to watch sports stars rise to the top and we love to see them dominate. But there is something even more addictive about watching a deposed champion scale the heights once more.

Was I the only one concerned when watching Nadal at the end of last year, giving everything at the ATP World Tour Finals but finishing bottom of his group?

Not writing him off, not saying he was finished, just concerned.

This wasn't the same Rafa. The same gusto, the same determination, but not the same Rafa.

Did he have doubts himself?

"Sure, I had doots" he admitted, with one of his endearing 'Rafa-isms'. "Everybody has doots."

But all doubts were banished at Roland Garros 2010, where he also reclaimed the world number one ranking from Federer. We saw the familiar sight - as in Monte Carlo, Rome and Madrid - of Nadal dominating on the clay, bruising opponents physically and mentally.

His opponents threw everything - especially Lleyton Hewitt, Thomaz Bellucci and Nicolas Almagro, as well as Jurgen Melzer in the third set of the semi - but they didn't win a set between them as Nadal racked up his fifth French Open title and his seventh Grand Slam.

Robin Soderling ran him close in the first set of the final and the early exchanges of the second but even his head started to slump in the third. He clocked the inevitability as we all did, although impressively he fought to the end.

He had a terrific tournament, including one of the performances of the year so far to beat Federer in the quarter-finals, and I really hope he carries this form on to other surfaces.

Never beyond the fourth round of Wimbledon before and - get this - never beyond the second round of the Australian Open, a man with his gifts should be a major threat on all surfaces.

It wasn't a classic French Open but the enduring images will be of two likeable Europeans who couldn't stop smiling. And the glow created by the beaming faces of champions Rafa Nadal and Francesca Schiavone could have illuminated the darkest of nights.


  • Comment number 1.

    Brilliant, Rafa!!

  • Comment number 2.

  • Comment number 3.

    Thoroughly deserved, it's good to see the King of Clay back to his best. Nadal will be a major threat in Wimbledon, as will Soderling who also had a fantastic tournament in Paris.

  • Comment number 4.

    What a phenomenon, surely the best clay court player in the history of the game, only Borg can even be considered in Nadal's league - and the difference in era makes it difficult to judge.

    I feel for Soderling, Djokovic, Del Potro, Verdasco, Davydenko, Roddick, Tsonga and of course Murray, because they are experiencing the misfortune of playing in an era when two of the best, arguably the two best, players in the history of the game are at the peak of their powers.

  • Comment number 5.

    It was always going to be about Rafa's game and confidence on this surface.

    His breakdown at the end tells us more about his will to win than anything else.

    Magnificent sportsman and an example to all.(apart from the spitting!)


  • Comment number 6.

    this match was really, really, close actually except for nadal's superiority on break points (just like against federer in the epic wimbledon) THIS will be what goes down in history as nadal's great strength, his ability to focus best against the breakers!!!... :)

  • Comment number 7.

    I agree with your sentiment that it's interesting to see a champion toppled, but come back and win again. He was humble in defeat and is humble in victory, so fair play to the guy.

  • Comment number 8.

    What a great lad, what an amazing champion !!!

    Haven't we all missed him all these months ???
    Surely Federer didn't !!

    (and as predictable as it may be... I expect to see a Nadal vs Federer in Wimbeldon's final next month !!

  • Comment number 9.

    Congratulations to Rafael Nadal.

    Dr. Cajetan Coelho

  • Comment number 10.

    Nadal and his coaches are smart! Last year Soderling blew Rafa away. Sure there were other issues for Rafa but I don't think that changed the result. This year Rafa has been rejuvenated on the clay. He has again reconstructed his game, thought about why Soderling beat him and came back stronger and cleverer!

    Lets hope Murray can start learning from his defeats in the same way! I also hope that Rafa and Fed are both on top form come the Masters at the o2 cos a Rafa/Roger final (or lob Murray in there) would really ignite the event in London.

    Well done Rafa today and for a fantastic clay court season. Here's to a great grass court season.

  • Comment number 11.

    Nadal is amazing! Hopefully he is over his injuries now - if so he really could dominate as he did a couple of years ago, winning the French, Wimbledon and Aussie open. I'd love to see him win Wimbledon again and then get the US, just to have the full house! That would take him to 9 grand slams, with a good few years to go - watch out Federer!

    What I would love though is for a third great player to emerge. Of course the likes of Roddick, Djokovic, Murray and Del Potro are great players and well capable of winning grand slams, however I can't see any of them, even the younger ones ever having sustained periods of brilliance and dominance that Nadal and Federer have had. Murray might (hopefully) win Wimbledon, which would make him a legend in England but I can't see him going down in history as an all time great. That means that the next great tennis superstar is still waiting to be discovered - I can't wait until he emerges! Jonathan, are there any young players you've come across that look like they could be something special?

    Also, one minor criticism of your article; three quarters of "from Rome 2009 to Monte Carlo 2010" and "from October 2008 to Madrid 2009" really doesn't mean anything to me or probably anyone else who doesn't follow tennis particularly closely beyond the grand slams - it'd be great if you could clarify.

    Looking forward to another Federer v Nadal classic Wimbledon final in a few weeks time..

  • Comment number 12.

    P.S. Murray winning Wimbledon might even make him a legend in Scotland as well as England..

  • Comment number 13.

    Hey, guys - just been watching the looped highlights on the BBC channel on Freeview, and they've bookended the highlights with a terrific song. There's a lyric in it that keeps being repeated: "He's a/the king." Does anybody know the title of this song and who sings it?


    Archibald Cunningham.

  • Comment number 14.

    I am a Fed fan but really really excellent job off course by Nadal!!! bounced back in style. We all know Fed is not that great on clay and even the great Pete didn't win the French Open either, Wimbledon and US Open will really be a test for Nadal this year, how fit he is and whether he can win again on these surfaces, Fed has proved his dominance on these surfaces over the years just like Nadal has done with Clay!!!

  • Comment number 15.

    Although a Federer fan, I commend Nadal's brilliance.

    He looks like he could be No.1 for a long time to come.

    Surely the greatest clay-court season of all time from one player?

  • Comment number 16.

    @15. "He looks like he could be No.1 for a long time to come."

    Spot on. To see the enormity of Nadal's achievement, realize that he has reached #1 ranking even before the grass season starts. That means he has no points to defend from Queen's and Wimbledon. Anything other than the Wimbledon title will cost Federer more points (like it happened at the French).

    Nadal is so good at the moment that, barring a disaster at the US Open (semi-finalist last year), he is assured of ending the year as No 1. He has no titles to defend for the rest of the year - his best result was a final at Shanghai.

    Maybe I have overlooked something. Does anybody see a way for Federer to end 2010 as Number 1?

  • Comment number 17.

    I am not versed in the ways of the ranking system, but surely, if Fed wins Wimbledon and the USO, he'll be #1 again?! As in, if you win 3 out of the 4 slams in a year you're #1, no? That said, it looks like a pretty remote possibility. Nadal at his peak as he was in the final is irresistible, I don't think Federer, or anyone else can beat him when he plays in this kind of form. Soderling had his chances, and was sometimes playing great but Nadal had an answer when it mattered, every time. Unbelievable that he can walk through the FO without losing a set!

    Whether you prefer Federer or Nadal is a question of style. I and many others prefer Federer's genius, the elegance of his play, the perceived effortlessness. I hope he can come back strong and give Nadal a run for the money at Wimbly.

    Hat's off to Rafa for a fabulous, incredible win.

  • Comment number 18.

    6 June 2010


    Our guys on the next table went out when the full screen is without surprise recording a two set lead by R Nadel against R Soderling.

    “Please do not go to the toilet....there is still a chance for Soderling to make it..” I heard someone at the other table professed such prediction. As soon as Rafel hit the last Ace giving him another lead in the match, the table got emptied again.

    As a professional tennis fan, I surely understand that a result of 3 sets to nil would mean less revenue by not having to pull the till machine by the pub owner.

    “What if Soderling can make it? What about he came through in the third set?” I myself was praying for a turnround.

    Surely the evening will see no breakthrough – Soderling is under mercy from Rafa. The only puzzle remains if RAFA can become a Robin... a bird that humms good rhymes.

    When it was towards the end of the match at Roland Garros, I stood up to say good bye to my friends...they all said why in a hurry, stay for more momentus moments when the winners will come on stage.

    After a while hearing the flushing of the toilet, as almost all guests are gone, I saw not a handshake on replay...does it mean that the hyper-reaction of RAFA has turned the camera of all guys to a blindfold? What happened to the handshake? What is the meaning of saying how good your opponents play and then the input of several digits into your bank account when you do not display to the world a handshake?

    I was home much earlier than I expected but if matches likes these go on...without handshakes, just tears of jubilation on the party winning, it means nothing to the spirit of sport?

    I do not recall any scenes of no congratulations in the past as a devouted tennis fan, hopefully I will still live to see more congratulatory handshakes in the years to come, as all go on the internet and results of winning and losing are broadcasted to the world, a handshake of all importance is still needed.

    Does the queen of Spain feel odd when she saw RAFA tormenting himself on the court after winning the match?

  • Comment number 19.

    Rafa is the real King. He was unfortunate by his injuries, hope he will be witouth them thru the Wimbeldon and US open. I genuine believe that he will be dominating in near future, and he can match the gread Fed.
    Go On Rafa.
    P.S. hate to say that he's a Real Madrid suporter ;)

  • Comment number 20.


  • Comment number 21.

    Congratulations to Nadal on becoming the transitional Number One.

  • Comment number 22.

    "Maybe I have overlooked something. Does anybody see a way for Federer to end 2010 as Number 1? "

    Yep, same way as last year - injuries to Nadal.

  • Comment number 23.


    "I am not versed in the ways of the ranking system, but surely, if Fed wins Wimbledon and the USO, he'll be #1 again?! As in, if you win 3 out of the 4 slams in a year you're #1, no?"

    No, it doesn't work like that. It's a rolling accumulation of points. For example, Federer will lose 2000 points just before Wimbledon (as he won it last year), whereas Nadal will not lose anything (as he didn't play). That means that Federer can't make any ground there for a start, even if he wins and Nadal goes out in the first round (highly unlikely, of course). Hope that helps.

  • Comment number 24.

    used2beprofi wrote:
    this match was really, really, close actually except for nadal's superiority on break points (just like against federer in the epic wimbledon) THIS will be what goes down in history as nadal's great strength, his ability to focus best against the breakers!!!... :)


    Were you watching a completely different match? Here are the stats.

    Total points played: 181
    Nadal points won: 100
    Soderling points won: 81

    Nadal won 5 points for every 4 that Soderling won. That is not close!

  • Comment number 25.

    It was very exciting watch the guy crying after the victory.
    He shows a lot of respect for the game and the importance of the victory.
    He is really a nice guy.
    Great mental strength and personality.

    /clap Rafa
    We spanish ppl love you

    And /clap Soderling, i am sure we,ll talk more about you, soon :)

  • Comment number 26.

    It was too one-sided to be a great final, but Rafa was magnificent. Fair play to Soderling as well, not many people would have won 10 games yesterday with Rafa in that sort of mood.

    Will be interesting to see how the #1 ranking plays out this year - the problem for those chasing Rafa is that they are all likely to take points off of each other on grass and hard courts, making it rather difficult for one person to string together the results that will be needed to overtake Nadal (who missed Wimbledon last year, so just needs to turn up to increase his lead at the top).

    What will not be interesting is seeing the Wimbledon seeding committee bump Nadal down to #2 seed for Wimbledon.

  • Comment number 27.

    Surely it doesn't make a lot of difference whether you are seeded 1 or 2, since the rest of the draw is random? Seed 1 could be seeded to play seed 3 or seed 4 in the semis. This is not fixed as some believe.

  • Comment number 28.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • Comment number 29.

    Federer was unable to play the Far East tournaments in the second half of last year as well as some post the Australian Open this year; Nadal getting to Number One by a slim margin is in large part due to these Federer problems with ill-health.

  • Comment number 30.

    nice article by jonathan overend after a long time.
    rafa played a great match yday to beat soderling.seems like soderling didnt have a clue how to a rafa fan i never imagined that rafa could win in straight sets but am really happy for rafa and i feel that normal order has been restored.rafa to win queens and wimbledon.....

  • Comment number 31.

    With reference to the world rankings Federer seems to save his best performances for the Slams [obviously not this one!] and Rafa's dominance on clay makes it inevitable that he will rack up points early on in the season.

    Great to see Rafa back in form, he was gracious as ever in victory.

    I relish the prospect of another showdown between Federer and Nadal at Wimbledon

  • Comment number 32.

    Rafa rocksssssss.....
    Champ of clay court
    Champ of Roland Garros

  • Comment number 33.

    Not sure about Soderling's ability on clay being replicated elsewhere. Obviously he's a good tennis player on ny surface but surely his flat hitting is helped on clay when he's striking the ball from shoulder height? On grass it'll be a lot harder to power it along the almost flat trajectories he was using, without it hitting the net or flying out.

  • Comment number 34.

    Deserved victory for the king of clay!
    Hope he builds on this victory.

  • Comment number 35.

    does anyone know who sings the song "He's a King" at the end of the men's French open final programme yesterday, and the title of the song? thanks!

  • Comment number 36.

    Nadal was absoultely great yesterday....all is right again with the world!

  • Comment number 37.

    No great surprise what Rafa has achieved. Totally expected...although I am in awe of him going through the clay court season for the loss of only 2 sets!

    He was always going to reclaim the No.1 ranking when he was fit again. If it was not for injuries he would by now have been way out of sight in the rankings of the pursuing pack.

    Heading into the FO last year he had a whopping 4500 points advantage over Roger; as he was unable to defend titles at Queens & Wimbledon it was inevitable that loads of points would be dropped and Roger duly obliged.

    I fully agree with your blog Jonathan, although you could also have put into context last years FO defeat by R.Sod by footnoting how Rafa had beaten him barely 2 weeks prior for the loss of 2 games.

    A mention should also be made that Rafa has now and is the only player to have thus far qualified for the ATP Tour Finals, a feat he also achieved last year but 2 weeks earlier.

    It should also be noted that in winning the FO he has repeated his record of 2008 of not dropping a set. I can't say I am hugely surprised having watched his matches against Hewitt, Bellucci & Almagro. He just had the look of invincibility. All three played staggeringly well, and must take heart from their performances as it bodes well for the rest of their season. Hewitt really surprised me, you got to feel sorry for the guy...always in the same half as Rafa.

    Next up Wimbledon & US Open.


    But Rafa

  • Comment number 38.

    I was happy for Nadal, but I have to say, I watched Soderling's other matches, and I just feel surprised that no one seems to have mentioned that he really underperformed in the final, compared with his previous performances in the tournament. He was consistently whacking in those huge shots previously and getting them *inside the lines/over the net*.

    In this final, he just lost his edge pretty much the whole time and made a heinous amount of unforced errors. Of course Nadal played superbly and put pressure on him, but it's not like Federer or Berdych just rolled over and allowed him to play his natural game either. For me, Soderling could have had an equal chance of winning this had he just not made such a huge amount of unforced errors, especially at crucial points. I guess it was the pressure he put on himself to win a GS, and I hope his coaches and he himself can figure a way to overcome this issue!

    Great win for Nadal, and here's hoping Soderling can get over this and go all the way in another GS soon!

  • Comment number 39.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 40.

    @ #29. At 10:04am on 07 Jun 2010, Tornandfrayed wrote:

    "Nadal getting to Number One by a slim margin is in large part due to these Federer problems with ill-health"

    This is the funniest comment of the day! How much of last season did Nadal miss? For him to have regained top spot already is impressive, and bodes ill for Fed, who has a lot of points to defend shortly, when every point for Rafa is free. Why? Because of his "problems with ill-health"!

  • Comment number 41.

    Nadal looks about all the way back from his problems, health and otherwise. The knees are not even wrapped now, although that may change once the hard court season starts. Some of the retrieving was vintage Nadal, which is utterly beyond any other tennis player around. Looking forward to Wimbledon and the US Open with Federer now looking up at Nadal in the rankings. This performance by Nadal should serve as a wake-up call to the other young players with major title aspirations. Djokovic has his major, as does Del Potro. But how hard will it be for Murray and the others to get past Nadal now that he is fully healthy and has all his old confidence back?

  • Comment number 42.

    To follow on from No.40 comments, I think its pretty amazing that a player can take 3 months out and still end the season with the opportunity to finish as No.1 let alone No.2!

  • Comment number 43.

    It's one thing to see someone completely dominate when they're playing the best of their life... but it's astounding to see Nadal destroy the clay season while often playing far below his best.

    Roll on Wimbledon.

  • Comment number 44.

    Well done Rafa long may your reign continue

  • Comment number 45.

    "Well done Rafa long may your reign continue"

    It won't.

  • Comment number 46.

    Rafa is just amazing. He is got now 7 Grand Slams, as many as John McEnroe and Mats Wilanders and he is just 24!

    Vamos Rafa

  • Comment number 47.

    I have my shirt on Rafa at Wimbledon.
    Vernon Ram

  • Comment number 48.

    After watching Rafa sob under his towel, I realized that in all probability, he also had doubts about whether his days at the top were numbered. I watched him play last year, and was struck by how different he was on court, I felt that he had lost his sparkle, his touch. I started to panic, thinking what if he never gets it back, because it really is something to see. Facing Soderling in the final was a scary prospect, to me anyway, I would have much preferred him to play against Berdych, and for parts of the first set, I was even more worried. Then it happened, he seemed to 'up' his game, the fire came back,and suddenly, I felt a huge sense of relief...Rafa was back. I admit I shed a few tears, because like many people, the thought of not seeing this amazing player competing for all the Slams was a horrid prospect. Wimbledon next, very excited about that! And a final note, the Tennis Channel is showing the 2008 Wimbledon Final (Nadal v Federer) in it's entirety, today at 5.00pm PST....

  • Comment number 49.

    Come on Overland, let´s have another post from you please. That´s enough of people salavating over the Rafa. Respecting of Rafa as I am, seeing him crush the make-weight competition is no fun at all. What a story it would make if the Fed came back, super motivated with some cool tactics to stop the Rafa at Wimbledon. That would have some colour and interest and emotion.... rather than "Rafa bulldozers the competition from now until 2016" which it pretty much looks like. What a booooore!

  • Comment number 50.

    ""Rafa bulldozers the competition from now until 2016" which it pretty much looks like. What a booooore!"

    You mean something similar to the 'booooore!' when Federer dominated between 2004 to 2008 winning 2 or 3 majors every year
    Its ridiculous to say that, Rafa deserves his chance just as Fed had his

  • Comment number 51.

    Hewitt a 'make-weight competition?' By beating Roger last week he has served to justify my comments in post No. 37.

    The signs were there when he play Rafa!

  • Comment number 52.

    Those who claim Soderling didn't play to his usual level must have been watching a different game. Nadal played the game of his life (dare I say 90% of his best level) and still it proved too much and thus completely overwhelmed the World Number 5? Give him his due in beating Fed, but Nadal is a different beast. Last year as may have been said was a blip and whilst he is too modest to say, but Nadal was nowhere near his best due to injury from the start of the French Open 2009. He only proved what we all know that when fit no one can touch him, even when he's playing just below his best. Return of the King indeed and long live the reign of the King, till Fed rediscovers his A-game (on other surfaces that is)!

  • Comment number 53.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?


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