Rafael Nadal is born, Rafael Nadal wins everything on clay, Rafael Nadal dies. This is how the clay court records look like in the reign of the king of clay. In the past decade, he has been absolutely ruthless and has owned the red dirt like no one has dominated anything in any sport of the world.
Barring minor incisions from the likes of Djokovic, Wawrinka and Murray, it has been a full monty for Nadal. And so just like that, there pops up the favorite question of all tennis fans across the world, WHO NEXT? And the question, invariably throws two very effective names in the form of Dominic Thiem and David Goffin.
Surely, Sacha Zverev made his point by winning the Munich open on his home soil last week. We also learnt in the past couple of months to never write off Nick Kyrgios when he has a racquet in his hand against any opponent anywhere in the world, but the current form, playing style and temperament leads us to believe that Goffin and Thiem are the two guys who can be slated to sit on the throne of the red dirt someday.
David Goffin made his presence feel when he took out Novak Djokovic at Monte Carlo masters in the quarter finals to spoil a potential Djodal matchup.
More than the victory, it was the way he managed to displace Novak by mixing up his shots and managing to produce impeccable length on his ground strokes, a quality that is mandatory to succeed on clay.
The only thing which works against Goffin is his build. He is short and lean, and sometimes looks visibly overpowered against the big hitting and stronger counterparts. As he cannot inject muscle into his serves and groundstrokes, he sometimes finds himself getting into too many long rallies which ultimately wears him down and works against him.
However the Belgian has heaps of talent and with some work on his point finishing abilities, he can go a long way on clay. Dominc Thiem, on the other hand, is indefatigable. He almost possesses the inhuman Nadal like quality of grinding it out on clay day in and day out.
He fought his way past the world number one in the semi finals of the Barcelona open before being schooled by Nadal in the finals. Losing against Rafa on clay is not a matter of shame, as most players on tour would agree, but if Thiem wants to win major titles on clay, he’ll find himself running into the Spanish bull more often than not.
He will have to find a way to counter Nadal's strength, game and Aura. And just like other players, the only thing that works against Thiem on the red clay is his single handed backhand. If his opponent is someone like Nadal, who loads RPMs into the tennis ball eveytime he connects, Theim will find himself taking shoulder high single handers for the duration of the match.
To say that Thiem or Goffin will manage to win the Roland Garros, or even Rome or Madrid seems to be a little far fetched. More than anything on clay, it is the ability to be ready to grind and fight it out for couple of weeks straight that makes victories happen.
Both, the Belgian and the Austrian have been inconsistent and wayward throughout their whole careers and to believe that they will defeat the likes of Nadal, Murray or Djokovic over the course of 5 sets sounds unrealistic and dubious.