Last year was the perfect setup to the clay court season for Rafael Nadal. The main part of the season began with the Masters 1000 Series tournament in Monte Carlo. The following week was the 500 level Barcelona Open and the week after was the Masters event in Rome. The week following Rome had several 250 tournaments with the Madrid Masters the week after that. Once again there would be a one week break without any big tournaments and once again there would be a major tournament the following week, this time the French Open.
Nadal has been the premier clay court player on tour for six years now. Since he burst onto the scene in 2005, only injuries or fatigue have beaten Rafa on clay. His great movement means he can get to almost any ball and the slower clay surface aids him in that even more. The extreme grips he uses means that his forehands have an incredible amount of bounce and spin, which makes it hard for opponents to time and return and is exacerbated by the bouncier clay. What is unique about Nadal is that he can still hit the ball with tremendous pace along with the spin, a combination that tennis has not seen in a very long time. He also rarely makes errors; as a spectator or an opponent you expect all of Nadal's shots to land in the court.
The one issue with Nadal's style of play is that it is extremely physical and therefore very taxing on his body. Within the past three years alone, Nadal has had to miss tournaments with injuries to his knees, abs, and thigh. Before last year he never managed to win all three of the clay Masters due to being hampered by an injury in at least one of them. At some point the grind of his play would always get to him and Nadal would be slowed enough that another good player could beat him. Many spectators have noted that Nadal has began to shorten points and go on the attack earlier since he returned from the worst injury in his career in 2009 (tendinitis in his knees handicapped him in a straight-sets French Open loss to Robin Soderling and forced him to miss Wimbledon). This has helped some, but he still plays one of the most physically taxing styles on tour.
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