Rafael Nadal became the world's best clay-courter in 2005, still at 19. The young Spaniard performed a massive record a year later, beating Guillermo Vilas' achievement and extending his incredible streak! Even for those who did not watch tennis often, it was clear that Rafael Nadal was something special when they saw him on the clay court for the first time in 2003 or 2004!
The left-handed Spaniard had everything required to become a successful player on the slowest surface. Rafa was destined for excellent results on clay ever since he reached the third round of Monte Carlo and Hamburg Masters 1000 events at 16 in 2003!
Rafa had to miss almost the entire spring clay season in 2004 due to an injury. However, he bounced back in July and August, winning his first ATP crown in Sopot and setting his eyes on clay glory in 2005, still at 18. Armed with an unseen physical strength, lethal forehand, picture-perfect anticipation and an iron determination, Nadal conquered eight ATP titles on clay in 2005, including his maiden Major crown at Roland Garros.
The rest is history, and Rafa became the greatest clay-courter in history, crowning his incredible journey with the 14th Roland Garros crown a year ago. After losing to Igor Andreev in the Valencia quarter-final in April 2005, no player beat Rafa on clay in the next 25 months!
Roger Federer finally ended Nadal's winning streak of 81 matches (13 titles) in the 2007 Hamburg Masters final, with the Spaniard embracing an incredible run that no one will ever match. That's the longest winning run on any surface in the Open era.
Rafa became a player with the most consecutive wins on clay after defeating Robin Soderling 6-2, 7-5, 6-1 in the 2006 Roland Garros opening round, securing his 54th consecutive win on clay and leaving Guillermo Vilas on 53!
Rafael Nadal earned the longest clay-court winning streak at Roland Garros 2006.
The Argentinian conquered 49 ATP titles on clay, including 14 in 1977. The Argentine stayed undefeated between Roland Garros until Aix en Provence, earning 53 wins in a row before retiring in the final against Ilie Nastase.
That record stood for almost 30 years, and Nadal overshadowed it in style. The Spaniard received a special prize on the court from Vilas, although the Argentinian was not happy about it. The defending champion Nadal needed two hours and eight minutes to take down Soderling.
Rafa saved five out of seven break points and took over 50% of the return points to claim eight breaks of serve from 22 opportunities. The first set was over in 28 minutes after Rafa's two breaks. However, Robin raised his level in set number two, creating a 4-2 gap.
Nadal claimed the next three games and grabbed a late break in game 11 to steal the set 7-5 and build a massive advantage. The Swede lost ground in the third set, and the Spaniard broke him early to control the scoreboard. Rafa moved over the top when Robin netted a forehand in the seventh game, advancing into the second round and delivering a record-breaking 54th consecutive victory on clay.
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