Nadal's still almost unstoppable on clay

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Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - With the 2008 French Open set to get underway in less than three weeks, the clay-court master that is Rafael Nadal is still in the process of tuning up to claim a fourth straight title at the Parisian Slam.

The 21-year-old Spanish star, who will turn 22 on June 3 during the French Open, simply continues to dominate the tour when it comes to anything on dirt. At the time of this article, the gritty slugger had just lost an 11-match overall winning streak, 10 of which had come on clay, as he gave way to fellow Spaniard Juan Carlos Ferrero (and a bad blister problem on his right foot) in his opening match at the Italian Masters. Nonetheless, the muscular world No. 2 has still won an amazing 103 out of his last 105 matches on clay.

103-2! That deserves a WOW!

And he's 143-14 on the red dirt over his career, including a 117-4 mark since 2005.

The big-hitting Nadal has won 103 of his last 105 matches on red clay.
As he headed to Rome, Rafa was fresh off back-to-back titles in Barcelona and Monte Carlo, where he's now the reigning four-time champ at both events. Did I mention that he's also the reigning three-time champ at the French Open, where he'll try to become the first man to capture four straight titles there since the legendary Bjorn Borg turned the trick from 1978-81? The only other man to rattle off four straight French Open wins was France's own Paul Ayme, from 1897-1900. And who doesn't remember that run?

The great Max Decugis captured the French eight times, including three in a row on two different occasions, but never tallied four straight wins like Borg or Ayme.

Did You Know?: A Frenchman captured the French Open every year from 1892-1932 (excluding World War I years from 1915-19). That was 36 straight at one point for the home team. And since 1932, only two Frenchmen (Marcel Bernard in 1946 and Yannick Noah in 1983) have won the coveted championship.

I knew that.

Nadal was in Rome this week seeking a fourth straight title at the tournament before Ferrero (and that blister) foiled his plans. The last player to beat Nadal on his beloved dirt, before Ferrero, was Roger Federer at last May's Hamburg Masters.

The 2008 edition of the Hamburg event will come next week.

By the way, Nadal is 9-6 lifetime against Federer, including a commanding 7-1 record on clay. (This means that the super Swiss is a commanding 5-2 when they meet off the dirt).

Nadal beat the Fed in a sexy final in Monte Carlo two weeks ago and seems to be (because he is) the reigning three- or four-time champion at just about every clay-court event that's worth a darn. And he's won seven of the last nine clay-court Masters Series tourneys that he's entered, dating back to '05, which means he's won 10 of his last 12 Grand Slam and/or Masters Series clay-court events.

That deserves yet another WOW!

Nadal is to clay what Federer is to grass (or what Jordan was to hardwood, or what Gretzky was to ice) - AWESOME!

The Mallorcan southpaw, who's been ranked No. 2 since 2005 and has held that spot longer than anyone else in the history of the ATP, owns 25 career titles, with most of 'em comin' on clay. He's the only player in history to finish a season at No. 2 three years in a row, as tennis royalty such as Andre Agassi, Boris Becker, Ivan Lendl and Jimmy Connors have all finished seasons at No. 2 on a trio of occasions, but none of them did it in consecutive fashion. Nadal is also the only one of these five gentlemen to have not finished a year at No. 1.

When Nadal heads to the upcoming French Open, he'll do so with a perfect 21-0 record there, as he's never lost in the main draw at Roland Garros.

Nadal is already deep in the discussion as one of the best clay-courters of all-time...but will he be considered the best-ever?

Stay tuned.

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