Will Rogers Cup 2019 correct Rafa's unusual non-clay Court jinx?

In a career that boasts of some superhuman achievements, one chink stares right back at us - Rafael Nadal has never retained a non-clay-court title in his glittering career. Will the Rogers Cup see him break tradition?

Nadal

While Nadal is undeniably the greatest clay court player in history, his exploits on hard and grass courts have showcased him as one of the greatest all-court champions in tennis.   -  Getty Images

Rafael Nadal won the Rogers Cup in 2018. This year, he is the top seed as Novak Djokovic as well as Roger Federer have both withdrawn from the tournament. If Rafa wins, it will break an unusual jinx: He has never retained a non-clay-court title in his glittering career.

While Nadal is undeniably the greatest clay court player in history, his exploits on hard and grass courts have showcased him as one of the greatest all-court champions who have graced the wonderful game of tennis.

Rafa is the first player in history to win 400-plus matches on both clay and hard courts. He has as many as six Grand Slam titles on non-clay courts. He was the first man to win Wimbledon and the French Open in the same year since the great Bjorn Borg. No one except Rafa has won three consecutive Grand Slam tournaments on clay, grass and hard court in the same year, a feat Rafa achieved in 2010. The French Open (clay) and the US Open (hard court) is a tough double that Rod Laver and Ivan Lendl did twice. Rafa has done it thrice.

Now let’s take a look at his wins over the years and how he fared while defending the titles:

Grand Slams

On grass, Rafa has won Wimbledon twice, in 2008 and 2010. In 2009, he first withdrew from the Aegon Championships where it was confirmed that he was suffering from tendinitis in both knees. He stated that he would try to be fit for Wimbledon. Unfortunately, the knee problems led to his being the first defending champion since Goran Ivanisevic to not defend his title. He returned the next year to win, but in 2011 he lost to Novak Djokovic.

Rafa won the 2009 Australian Open in an epic win over Federer. But he retired midway in the third set against Andy Murray in the quarterfinals the next year. It was his first ever retirement in a Grand Slam match.

At the US Open, Rafa has won thrice. In 2010, he became the first Spaniard to win the title in 45 years after Manuel Santana in 1965. He also completed the career Grand Slam with this win over Djokovic. However, in 2011, in a repeat final between the two, it was Djokovic who prevailed. Rafa’s second US Open title was in 2013, once again with him defeating Djokovic. Unfortunately, he withdrew from the 2014 tournament due to a right wrist injury. Rafa’s third US Open win was in 2017. In 2018, Rafa was one of the favourites. However, in the semifinals Rafa had to retire after losing the first two sets 6-7, 2-6 to the gentle giant Juan Martin del Potro.

Masters 1000 tournaments

Rafa’s first Masters 1000 win was at the Rogers Cup in 2005, when he defeated the great Andre Agassi. But he lost to Tomas Berdych in the third round in 2006.

Rafa also won at the Madrid Open in 2005 in five sets against over Ivan Ljubicic, but he lost to Berdych again in the 2006 quarters.

Rafa won the 2007 Indian Wells Masters with a straight-sets win over Djokovic, but lost to him in 2008 in the semifinals. At the 2008 Rogers Cup, Nadal defeated Nicolas Keifer, but lost to del Potro next year in the quarterfinals. Rafa crushed Murray 6-1 6-2 in the 2009 Indian Wells but had a semifinals loss to Ljubicic the next year.

In 2013, he won three hard-court Masters: Indian Wells by defeating del Potro, the Rogers Cup by defeating Milos Raonic and Cincinnati by defeating John Isner. However, he lost to Alexandr Dolgopolov in the third round of the 2014 Indian Wells and opted out of both the Rogers Cup and Cincinnati.

Last year, Rafa won the Rogers Cup title and it remains to be seen if he retains it in 2019.

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Rafael Nadal   -  Getty Images

 

Olympics

Rafa is a double gold medallist at the Olympics. He won the 2008 Beijing singles gold by defeating Fernando Gonzalez in the final, but the 2012 Olympics was on grass and he could not participate due to injury.

Rafa also won the 2016 Rio Olympics doubles gold with Marc Lopez while the singles gold was won by Andy Murray by defeating del Potro in the final. In singles, Rafa lost the bronze medal match to Kei Nishikori.

The 2020 Olympics will be on hard courts. I’m hoping that Rafa as also his illustrious rivals Federer and Djokovic are around to make it a great event.

Other tournaments

Other non-clay tennis tournaments that Rafa has won are China in 2005, Dubai in 2006, Queens in 2009, Japan in 2010 and Qatar in 2014.

But he did not play the 2006 China and 2010 Queens events. At Dubai 2007, he lost to Mikhail Youzhny in the quarterfinals. Murray got the better of him at Japan in 2011, while Michael Berrer ousted him in a rare first-round defeat at Qatar in 2015.

Another chance

Dominic Thiem as the second seed will be Rafa’s main competitor as he looks to defend his Rogers Cup title, as will be some young players like Sascha Zverev and Stefanos Tsitsipas.

Can Rafa do it? Even if he doesn’t, it certainly will not make any difference to his legacy.