On the red dirt of Roland Garros, Rafael Nadal has come close to achieving sporting perfection. Nine of the 10 times he has participated in the Major, Nadal has gone on to win it. The first of his French Open titles came as a 17-year-old, making him the last teen to win a Major. His ninth title took his career Grand Slam count to 14, equalling Pete Sampras and just three behind Roger Federer in the all-time list.
Nadal’s nine titles in Paris have come on the back of a scarcely believable win-loss record of 66-1 and a win percentage of 98.5. By contrast, no man has won the same Major more than seven times.
Nadal’s numbers only become more staggering if one broadens the scope to include other tournaments played on clay. His sequence of 81 successive wins on clay between 2005 and 2007 is a record for any player on any surface in the Open era. He has won the Rome and Monte Carlo Masters, prestigious tournaments in the clay swing leading up to the French Open, seven and eight times respectively, more than anybody else. Nadal’s win-loss of 90-1 gives opponents a paltry one per cent chance of beating him over five sets (as would be the case in Grand Slams and the Davis Cup) on clay.
His status as the best clay court player of all time secure, where does Nadal rank among the greats? Paradoxically, his utter domination on one surface dilutes his claim to greatness, especially compared to Roger Federer’s more even distribution of wins across grass and hard court Majors. Nadal is an old 28, having made an early entry (and impact) on the pro circuit. This leaves him with perhaps a season or two to mount a final assault on Federer’s tally and settle all debates.