Top 5 Men’s Clay Court Players of All Time
Spring is here, which means it’s red clay all day and every day. The red clay has historically been a very physical surface to play on. The clay slows down the game and it’s nearly impossible to hit through a tough opponent. Rallies are long and cerebral. If one wants to win on clay, they must have the right balance of aggression and defense. Few players have this balance. Traditionally, it has been the Europeans and South Americans who have had success on the red clay – mostly because they grow up on the stuff. That’s not to say Americans have not won important titles on the red clay. They have. Notwithstanding, it’s been Europeans that have achieved true greatness on the red clay. Let’s look at my top 5 of all time.
5. Gustavo Kuerten
Immediately before Rafa Nadal began to shatter all sorts of clay court records, the best clay-court player in the world was a Brazilian named Gustavo Kuerten. Kuerten was almost unbeatable on the red clay in the late 90s and early 2000s. In all, he claimed three French Open titles; 1997, 2000, and 2001. He would also go on to win two Monte Carlo Masters, a Rome Masters, and a Hamburg Masters. Not too shabby for this former number one.
4. Ivan Lendl
Like Gustavo Kuerten, Lendl would also win three French Open titles. He would lift the prestigious trophy in 1986, 1987, 1989. However, unlike Kuerten, Lendl was able to capture more important titles overall, winning twice at Rome, Hamburg, and Monte Carlo. Also, Ivan Lendl had to do this during the Wilander era. Kuerten did not have a rival to contend with such as Wilander.
3. Mats Wilander
Mats Wilander is one of my favorite players of all time. He made winning look so effortlessly, with his relaxed groundstrokes and cerebral game. He would break down power players with his relentless consistency. In the process, he would capture three French Opens; 1982, 1985, and 1988. I give Mats the nod over Lendl because although they contested the same amount of finals, Mats won his first French Open before Lendl, and won his last after Ivan Lendl. This tells me he was more dominant on the red clay for a longer period of time than Lendl.
2. Bjorn Borg
Before there was somebody by the name of Rafa Nadal to come in and win 13 French Open titles and counting, there was Bjorn Borg with his six French Open titles. Many people thought this feat would never be repeated, let alone broken. Bjorn Borg could have continued his dominance if it were not for the fact that he retired at the tender age of 25. Imagine how many more French Open titles he would have had.
1. Rafa Nadal
No argument here. Rafa Nadal is the best clay-court player that has ever lived. The crazy thing about this is the fact that he’s not done yet. There’s a possibility that Nadal continues to capture more French Open, Monte Carlo, Madrid, and Rome titles in the next three to four years. People always say records are meant to be broken. However, records that have been posted by Nadal will not be broken. Nadal will stand alone.
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