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Rafael Nadal matches Pete Sampras’ numbers on hard courts

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Rafael Nadal pointing

Widely considered as the greatest clay-court player of all time, Rafael Nadal has been the dominant figure on the slowest surface in the last 15 years, lifting 59 ATP titles on his beloved clay. Also, it is easy sometimes to forget how successful the Spaniard is on hard courts as well, winning 22 titles from 48 finals on the most common surface.

Nadal’s first nine ATP titles in 2004 and 2005 came on clay, although he played for the first ATP title on hard court in Auckland at the beginning of 2004 when he was only 17. In the next 16 years, Rafa has fought for some of the most notable ATP events on cement, advancing into ten Major finals as one of only six players in the Open era and 19 at the Masters 1000 level, joining Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic and Andre Agassi on that feat.

Rafael nadal praise

Last Saturday, Nadal joined Pete Sampras on 48 ATP finals on hard court, beating five rivals to lift the trophy in Acapulco, the first since the US Open last September. Rafa lost in the final of the inaugural ATP Cup to Novak Djokovic, failing to win another team competition for Spain and switching focus on the Australian Open where he played in the final a year ago.

The Spaniard couldn’t repeat that this January, suffering a tight loss to Dominic Thiem in the quarter-final and allowing Novak Djokovic to become world no. 1 again. After playing in Kuwait and South Africa, Nadal traveled to Acapulco where he lifted the third crown, the first since 2013.

Rafael Nadal greets

Facing no rivals from the top-20, Nadal lost 25 games in ten sets, struggling a little bit only against Miomir Kecmanovic and sailing towards the title after two identical triumphs over Grigor Dimitrov and Taylor Fritz.

Most ATP finals on hard courts in the Open era

98 – Roger Federer
78 – Novak Djokovic
70 – Andre Agassi
67 – Jimmy Connors
53 – Ivan LendI
53 – Andy Murray
48 – Pete Sampras
48 – Rafael Nadal

Rafael Nadal vs Novak Djokovic: When Drama Unfolded at French Open
Rafael Nadal with trophy

In the era of epic matches, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic have produced many marathon matches in their career. There are some standout matches that the two arch-rivals have played against each other. The French Open 2013 semifinal was one such pulsating contest between the two legends. However, why is the match recorded as one of the most remarkable matches in the history of Roland Garros?

The Roland Garros 2013 semifinal was the doppelganger of their Australian Open final from the previous year. The nerve-wracking match in Melbourne lasted almost 6 hours and went to Djokovic 7-5 in the fifth set. Similarly, the see-saw saga in Paris came to an end after four hours and 37 minutes. However, this time Nadal found the edge 9-7 in the fifth set.

Novak Djokovic

Rafael Nadal vs Novak Djokovic: The stirring display of tennis
Nadal and Djokovic played one of the most engrossing semi-finals in the history of tennis. The Serbian was attempting to defeat Nadal for the first time at the French Open. On the other hand, Nadal was making a comeback after missing seven months with a knee injury and reach his first Grand Slam final after a year.

Both the players could not decipher the brilliant shot-making that his opponent was pulling off. The Spaniard was in disbelief with Novak’s line touching returns. On the other hand, Djokovic was awestruck with Rafa’s impossible shot-making as the Spaniard dug deep on every point.

Rafael Nadal Jubilated

Drama in every step of the way
Nadal failed to serve out the match in the fourth set as the 17-time Grand Slam winner played a gutsy game, denying his opponent a straightforward match. Novak then played some sensational tennis, hitting line-licking winners and claiming the fourth set.

Furthermore, Djokovic was one the verge of becoming only the second player in 59 matches to beat the ‘King of Clay’ at the French Open. He cruised to a 4-2 lead in the final set. The merciless rallies continued, however, Nole made a match-changing blunder, letting slip his serve as the Mallorcan refused to yield.

Tension rose as the games ticked by with both the players keeping the opponent on his toes. However, Nadal was getting on Djokovic’s nerves as the latter missed several smashes and was also unhappy with the court. He also complained to the umpire about the slippery court as he lost focus towards the end.

Rafael Nadal stretched

Subsequently, the Spaniard proved the stronger as the final set headed past one hour and 20 minutes. Nadal fired a forehand winner to earn three match points. Djokovic, who looked edgier, hit a tired forehand over the baseline. The then 7-time French Open champion reached his eighth final in Paris defeating Djokovic 6-4 3-6 6-1 6-7 (3-7) 9-7.

Two years later, Novak improved upon his game to defeat Nadal for the second time at the French Open since 2005. However, the 19-time Grand Slam champion has proved to be invincible on the Parisian clay with a winning percentage of 97.89%. It will be interesting to see if Djokovic can defeat Nadal again and complete his double career Grand Slam.

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