With his 14th victory at Roland Garros, Rafa Nadal once again demonstrated his brutal supremacy on clay, his preferred surface. It is an astonishing dominance whose equivalent is hard to find, not only in the history of tennis, but in the history of any sport.
Between 1990 and 2004, 11 players won in Paris. Then Nadal appeared in 2005, and since then only three tennis players have earned the glory of Chatrier: Roger Federer, Stan Wawrinka and Novak Djokovic, the second twice. Eighteen years passed, and the Spaniard won all the other 14 cups.
The last 20 years have been the worst on clay, because they necessarily mean facing Nadal. His dominance, season after season, has made it impossible for other players to win the Parisian title. Only Bjorn Borg in the 1970s came close to the Spaniard’s record, yet he watches it from afar from his six French Open Cups, less than half of Nadal’s.
Clay is the perfect surface for Nadal’s match, as the left-handed man unleashes the ball that has given him so many successes. This effect imprints on the ball spinning in the upper spin so that it overpowers opponents due to the height it reaches after rebounding.
The Balearic native’s superiority is indisputable in terms of the Elo Ranking on Clay, a metric that measures each player’s relative skills based on scores achieved and the results of competitors. Since Nadal had enough points to lead this ranking in 2005, he hasn’t given up the lead for more than two years, in 2015 and 2016.
In half a century, no other tennis player has long outdone the rest. In the late 1970s, Borg was the best on this deck for five consecutive years, and was in the top three for nine seasons. Evan Lendl has been in the top three for 11 years, a few years later. But Nadal is in another dimension: he was the best in 16 years and was first and second for 18 years.
Djokovic was the best player on clay in the two years that Nadal stumbled. The Serbian has been in the top three on this surface for 14 years, and it is inevitable how many years it would have been better had Rafa Nadal not been around.
Another piece of information that reveals the Spanish tennis player’s unique dominance on clay is the percentage of games he’s won: including Grand Slam and Masters 1000, since 2005 he’s played 338 games and won 309, an average of 91%. It’s a figure that his historic rivals in tennis, neither Roger Federer on grass (89%) nor Novak Djokovic on the hard court (85%) have reached.
In 2005, 2006 and 2010 Nadal won all the claycourt matches in the top categories, averaging 20 matches each time. Over a decade, he won 90% of matches, between 2005 and 2014, and returned to those numbers again between 2017 and 2020. By comparison, Djokovic was only above 90% on hard courts for six years of his career, and they were Well not consecutive.
Grand Slam more than any other man
Nadal is the male tennis player with the most Grand Slam titles in history, with 22 titles, twice more than Federer and Djokovic. That’s how high the level is right now, after competing over two decades.
But the absolute record in the Open Era is still higher: 23 titles, which Serena Williams has achieved so far.
When Roger Federer won his first major competition in 2003, the record was 14 titles for Pete Sampras and the podium can still be reached with nine majors, but the price of the record soared with this historic three-way competition between Federer, Nadal, and Nadal. Djokovic. As of Sunday, a victory over Nadal requires 23 wins.