The Eight Times Nadal Was Underdog On Clay But Still Won Half Of Matches

The Eight Times Nadal Was Underdog On Clay But Still Won Half Of Matches

by Nurein Ahmed

Since turning 19 and becoming a major force on the ATP tour, Rafael Nadal has always been the favorite to win a match on clay except on eight occasions.

The latest one was in the third round of the 2024 Madrid Open, where the Spaniard shocked World No. 11 Alex de Minaur to win his match in what is increasingly likely to be the final season of his professional career.

According to the oddsmakers, Nadal was the underdog to win the match against the Australian. He had lost to him quite resoundingly just a week ago in Barcelona. And having expressed concerns about playing below 100% in Madrid, it made sense that he was not considered a favorite.

But there are seven other instances when Nadal was also an underdog on clay, so how does his record stack up?

2005 Roland Garros semifinal (won)

The first-ever clay meeting between Nadal and his longtime rival Roger Federer was at the 2005 Roland Garros semifinal. The Swiss one-hander was World No. 1 and had won the Hamburg Masters coming to Paris.

Federer only lost four matches that year, and one of those was inflicted by the young Spaniard, who came out racing from the blocks to win in four sets - the only time the retired Swiss had a chance to bag a win over Nadal in Paris.

2006 Monte-Carlo Masters final (won)

The only other time Federer was the favorite to beat Nadal on clay was in the subsequent year in Monte Carlo. The bookmakers did not read too much into the French Open result in 2005.

Federer was as hot as he'd ever been to start the year, with four titles, including the 2006 Australian Open. But Nadal stepped up when it mattered, beating Federer for the second time in two months in a thrilling Monte Carlo final (also defeated Federer in Dubai).

2015 Monte-Carlo Masters semifinal (lost)

Novak Djokovic is the only player who has beaten Nadal more times on clay (with eight wins). One of those victories came in the 2015 season when he defeated the Spanish lefty in straight sets in the Monte-Carlo Masters semifinal.

2015 French Open quarterfinal (lost)

Again, Djokovic backed up his semi-final win over Nadal in Monte Carlo by becoming the second man to defeat the king of clay at the French Open. Given Nadal's inconsistent season, it was the most obvious result of the tournament when the draw was made. It has to be said that the odds here were not surprising.

2016 Italian Open quarterfinal (lost)

2016 was one of Nadal's most challenging years because of his health. He was forced to vacate his Roland Garros crown by withdrawing from the tournament before his third-round match due to a wrist injury.

The buildup to Roland Garros was actually quite decent for Nadal, with titles in Monte Carlo and Barcelona. But Djokovic was his kryptonite. The Serb was the best clay court player at that time and won a tight, straight-set quarterfinal in Rome against his big rival.

2022 Madrid Open quarterfinal (lost)

Even though Nadal defeated Carlos Alcaraz just 12 months earlier in the same tournament, his younger countryman had elevated his game and become a more complete player.

Nadal entered the match as a slight underdog, and the end result proved to signal the coming of a new Spanish star in men's tennis.

2022 French Open quarterfinal (won)

For many onlookers, this 2022 French Open quarterfinal was like the de facto final. Djokovic and Nadal crossed paths again in a French Open match. Nadal had looked woefully short of match sharpness in the buildup to the 2022 Roland Garros tournament and even admitted to walking with crutches after beating Casper Ruud in the final.

He actually caused a big upset in the quarterfinals when he defeated top-seeded Djokovic in the last eight in four sets. This was one of only three times he was an underdog at Roland Garros.


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