For the first time since August 2004, Rafael Nadal did not hold any clay-court ATP title in May last year. Struggling with injuries, it could happen again in June if the Spaniard fails to defend his Roland Garros crown. With 63 ATP titles, Rafa is the most decorated player on clay in the Open era.
Nadal's achievements have mainly been linked with the slowest surface, conquering 14 Roland Garros crowns and numerous Masters 1000 titles on his beloved dirt. Rafa's first ATP title came in Sopot in August 2004, two months after turning 18.
Next spring, Nadal became the world's finest clay-courter, conquering his first Masters 1000 trophies in Monte Carlo and Rome and crowning his streak with the maiden Roland Garros title on his Parisian debut. In his darkest years on the Tour in 2015 and 2016, clay was Nadal's rescue surface, winning at least a few titles and remaining in the top-10.
Rafa was back at his best from 2017, and he delivered his 13th Roland Garros crown in October 2020 following a brilliant performance against all seven encounters! Nadal's 2021 clay-court swing could have been better, especially for his standards.
The Spaniard won two titles after fending off match points in Barcelona and Rome before falling to Novak Djokovic in the Roland Garros semi-final.
Rafael Nadal held no ATP clay-court title in May last year.
Still, it was significantly better than what we saw from Rafa in May last year!
Struggling with injuries, the Spaniard embraced his worst streak on clay in 18 years! Rafa failed to defend the Rome Masters crown and had no clay-court title in his possession for the first time since August 2004! Despite many injuries in the past 19 years, Rafa would always win at least one title on clay within 12 months.
That streak ended following the last year's third-round loss in Rome, dealing with a foot injury and gathering dark clouds over his Roland Garros participation. Rafa played only two more tournaments after Rome 2021, struggling with his left foot and wrapping up the year in early August.
The Spanish veteran made a perfect comeback at the last year's Australian Open, securing his 21st Major crown and winning the season's first three events. Nadal fought for the fourth title in Indian Wells, experiencing a rib injury and falling to Taylor Fritz in the final.
Rafa skipped six weeks and lost the rhythm ahead of the clay swing. Nadal withdrew from Monte Carlo and Barcelona and was not ready to fight for the titles in Madrid and Rome. Rafa lost to Carlos Alcaraz in the Madrid quarter-final and experienced an even earlier loss in Rome.
The Spaniard struggled with foot pain against Denis Shapovalov at Foro Italico and needed a miracle in Paris. The miracle came in the form of injections, killing the pain and enduring best-of-five duels to lift his 14th Roland Garros title and the 22nd Major.
With more issues around the corner, Roland Garros remains Rafa's last ATP title. The Spaniard has played only 13 matches since last August, winning five and dropping out from the top-10 for the first time since April 2005. Nadal is trying to overcome a hip injury and play at his best in Rome and Paris.
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