Clay court homage to Rafa

Photo by REUTERS/ Stefano Rellandini

Cheryl Murray at is waxing poetic about Rafa on clay. (Thanks to sia for the tip.) Some of my favorite bits:

I remember the first time I saw Nadal play a match; it was the second round at the 2004 US Open, his opponent Andy Roddick. American commentator John McEnroe kept calling him a “stud”, and I thought with some amusement that John seemed to have a little crush on him. I personally didn’t think “stud” when I saw Rafael Nadal. If you’ll pardon the slight insult, I thought he looked like an assassin. I had never seen such unusual focus in a tennis player before – and certainly not one who was still a boy.

Bing! We had the same first impression.

It wasn’t until the following spring that I saw Nadal on a clay court for the first time. It was one of the more surreal experiences in my long history as a tennis fan. Because my first exposure to him had been on hard courts, I stupidly assumed that his game was clumsy, that he, with his muscles and scowl, was interesting but destined for mediocrity. In no way was I prepared for what I saw.

Poetic is not a word that is usually associated with Rafael Nadal. Intense, determined, powerful, yes. Poetry, no – but that’s the word I thought of.

There is something so very special about how Rafa moves on clay. His game is the same; his shots are the same; but that slide…it’s…sexy. It’s smooths out the rough edges. It takes an assassin’s scowl and turns it into a face of stoic concentration.

Watching Rafa on hard courts was like watching a fish try to move around on land; he put in massive effort, but the net effect was just a lot of flopping around. Put a fish back in water and everything just comes together.

And as much as he’s improved his play and movement on other surfaces over the years, he always looks the most at home on clay – as if he and clay were made for each other.

17 Responses

  1. Atch2 says:

    Johnny Mac’s crush on Rafa seems to have endured to this day. It was especially evident after Rafa won Wimby 08 and he interviewed Rafa in awe.

    Rafa’s mastery of clay seems so natural to him, and Cheryl’s fish-water comparison is so right, and a dolphin would be a more accurate of Rafa, gliding.

    His assassin-like character was also there from a young age. You don’t see him laughing or playing around in vids from when he was a tot in competition. I’m still sometimes freaked out by the intensity of his eyes during a match. You’d have to be a strong character yourself not to be intimated by Rafa’s glares sometimes.

    And I admire Rafa so much for his thirst to always improve and ability to really improve on all surfaces. Few players who prefer and have most success on hc have been able to be as successful on clay as Rafa has been on hc and grass.

    • Els says:

      Has any of you read what RF has to say about Rafa?

      He always gives me the feeling that he is praising and downing Rafa at the same time. Playing on clay is “too easy”, for example. And dit you know that to play well on clay you just need to run fast and have a good forehand and backhand, and that you can win on clay with a very incomplete game?


      • Karen says:

        I’m not even gonna go there cos I’m fed up with what other players say about Rafa and his game. They should take a big leaf out of Rafa’s book and grow up! I’m so enjoying the clay season so far and can’t wait to see our ‘raging shy boy’ do his thing later today. Rafa’s personality on & off court is partly why he’s achieved so much already. He’s determined, disciplined and dedicated. He never ceases to amaze. Whatever life & tennis throws at him he’s ready to deal with it and move on. That’s partly what makes him so special to follow. Without realising it he’s teaching people of all ages, gender & race how to behave and respect others while simply doing what he loves best. All I can say is ‘thank the sweet Lord for giving us Rafatennis!’ whatever the surfrace!

      • Marilyn Wasserman says:

        Hahahaha! That’s Roger. First he complains that on other surfaces he doesn’t “have to think”, then he decides that all you need to win on clay is “legs, an incredible forehand and backhand”. No wonder he can’t beat Rafa on clay! Shhhh! Don’t anyone tell him you need to be able to construct a point. And give him a little credit. Why only last year he finally discovered what every kid who’s grown up on clay knows: a drop shot is really, really useful there. Wait, Roger did grow up on clay. Did he sleep (or cry) though that lesson?

        Oh, give me Rafa any day! (Please!) Rafa believes that all the hard work, the dedication, gives him “chances to win”. That’s what you get. Roger believes he’s got a guarantee from fate.

        Emilio Sanchez-Vicario described a practice session with Rafa at 12. Afterward Rafa asked if they could play a few points “for real”. Emilio found the change “frightening in a twelve year old”. He saw the assassin come out of the sweet shy boy that day.

        • vamsi mohana says:

          it is horrible
          first he says that it is too easy then he says”not taking anything away from rafa”
          rafa respects him so much
          he always has good things to say of roger
          we dont expect this from him

        • Stf says:

          “Roger believes he’s got a guarantee from fate.”

          And his fans seem to think the same thing. :p I don’t really get Roger’s comments. To me, clay is a surface that you can be good at or not. It is essential to build up points and wait for the right time to finish the point, it needs patience. Which Roger clearly lacks. He likes to finish his points fast and finish his matches just as fast. It’s obvious that he gets annoyed if he has to play a third set or a fourth one in a major. Thus, clay is his least favourite surface.

          Yes, Rafa on clay is a marvel to watch. His footwork is amazing and it’s like he is dancing on the court, for lack of a better phrase. He’s by far the best player on clay right now. And I do think that if a player is good on clay, he can be good at both other surfaces, not the other way around.

      • vamsi mohana says:

        this is so unfair on rf s part

      • miri says:

        If you want to comment on that article, do so on the GoToTennis site.

  2. Debbie says:

    Then Roger if you think it’s so easy then why couldn’t you beat Rafa at Roland Garros and only managed to do so when his knees packed up on him or why have you lost your last few clay court matches not so easy me thinks. I always get the feeling that Roger is patronising.
    There is simply nothing more beautiful in the world than watching Rafa on clay courts as Cheryl Murray says it’s poetic. What always fascinates me is his intensity on court but his personality off it, where does he go in his mind to get that look of intensity but yet be so placid and shy off court, and well my love for John Mac has had something of a re-birth because of his evident man love for Rafa just too sweet.

  3. vamsi mohana says:

    i loved the word”sexy”to describe his movement
    it is exactly that

  4. tennisfun says:

    i love him on grass as much as on clay. i know ps 7 w and rf 6 w will tell you they are the best player on grass but for me the best player on grass is rafa . i can watch him move on grass and clay forever. he is magic. he is amazing on hc too but the thought of what hc does to all the players holds me back.

    take care rafa

  5. Fay says:

    Yes I love to watch Rafa on grass too, I remember Navratilova when she spoke of how his movement on the grass was ‘amazing’, and the Clay well, when he is on song, and feeling confident, he is simply mesmerizing to watch… and sexy of course!!!