record books

RAFA’S RECORD OF CLAY

Rafael Nadal is unquestionably the king of clay.

The “rey” of clay, so to speak.

Back on May 29, 2006, as documented in the book ON THIS DAY IN TENNIS HISTORY ($19.95, New Chapter Press, www.TennisHistoryBook.com), Rafa put himself in the “clay” record books with a win over Robin Soderling, as document below. Soderling, ironically, would play another historic match with Nadal three years later at Roland Garros, handing the Spanish lefty his first career French Open loss in the fourth round.

2006 – Rafael Nadal wins his 54th consecutive match on a clay court, breaking the Open era record set by Guillermo Vilas, defeating Robin Soderling of Sweden 6-2, 7-5, 6-1 in the first round of the French Open in Paris. Nadal is honored for his achievement with an on-court ceremony featuring Christian Bimes, the President of the French Tennis Federation, and Vilas himself, who won 53 straight matches on clay in 1977. Says Nadal of the record, “Obviously, the record is something just extra. It’s something you want. You want to go for it, but the first round in a Grand Slam tournament is always difficult. The first round in any tournament is difficult, but in a Grand Slam, there’s a little more pressure.“ Vilas was not even aware that he held the record for most consecutive clay court victories until weeks before the record was broken. He was, however, well aware of his Open-era records for consecutive victories, regardless of surface (50) and for tournaments won in a year (16) – all accomplished in 1977. Says Vilas, “I’m not sad to lose the minor record, but I’ll be mad if he breaks the others.” Nadal’s streak begins in April of 2005 at the Monte Carlo Open. The streak ends at 81 on May 20, 2007, when Roger Federer beats Nadal in the final of Hamburg, Germany.

PEER POLITICS, HENIN AND THE MAGICIAN: THE FRIDAY FIVE

By Maud Watson

Political Pandemonium – Once again, there was an ugly scene at the WTA Auckland event, as protesters against Israel’s treatment of Palestinians voiced their discontent during Israeli Shahar Peer’s matches. All credit to Peer, however, who managed to block it all out and reach the semifinals before losing to Yanina Wickmayer. Another positive bit of news for Peer is that the WTA has received, in writing, assurances from the UAE that she will be granted a visa to compete in Dubai. For those who remember, Peer was denied the visa in 2009, and the WTA was forced to impose a $300,000 fine on the Dubai event. While things are still far from perfect, it’s nice to see that sometimes sports can rise above politics.

She’s Ba-ack! – The moment tennis fans around the world have been waiting for has arrived as Justine Henin made her official return to tournament tennis at the Brisbane event this week.  With the exception of her quarterfinal match in which she was forced to show her true grit and determination to grind out a third set tiebreak win, Henin has crushed the competition en route to the final, including a dominating performance over former No. 1 Ana Ivanovic in the semifinals.  She now faces the current comeback queen and fellow Belgian Kim Clijsters in the final.  Looks the WTA season has started with a bang!

History Beckons – No, Fabrice Santoro hasn’t caught the contagious comeback bug.  He is merely unable to resist the opportunity to etch his name into the record books.  The Frenchman affectionately known as “the magician,” who retired at the 2009 Paris Masters event, has changed his mind and opted to play the 2010 Australian Open.  By playing at the opening Major of the season, Santoro will become the first player to have competed at the Grand Slam events over the course of four different decades.  It’s a great achievement, and I’m sure fans will appreciate the chance to see this crafty player take to the courts as he makes his final curtain call.

Suck It Up – That’s essentially what the ITF will be saying to those players who find themselves wilting under hot conditions or over the course of long matches in all ITF events, which includes the four Slams. I for one was thrilled to read that the ITF was taking a stand on this issue, as it’s been long overdue.  It about time those players who put in the time during the off season are allowed to start reaping the benefits of their hard work instead of having to watch a physically weak opponent break the momentum of a match to receive a massage for cramps, and in some cases, unjustly squeak out the win.  Now, if we could just get the governing bodies to start enforcing the time rule in between points we’d be in business.

Murray Out Of Davis Cup – Once again, Andy Murray has disappointed the people of Great Britain by stating he will not be representing his country in the upcoming tie with Lithuania.  It has to be disappointing for a nation that at one time was one of the top dogs in the tennis world.  That said, it is hard to fault Murray when Roger Federer also appears reluctant to represent Switzerland against Spain in early March, with his reason being a scheduling conflict with the regular tour season.  This is just another blaring example that shows the ITF needs to do something to change the format of the Davis Cup competition, or else blockbuster matchups such as Switzerland vs. Spain are going to continue to go bust in a hurry.