Are the days of the 'Clay Court Specialist' long gone?

Posted on April 28 2018

The King of Clay Marches On


There was a time in the late 90s and early 00s that you often heard the term ‘clay court specialist’ in the tennis world. A host of Spanish and South American players achieved success on the red clay in this time but struggled to topple the likes of Sampras and Agassi on the other surfaces. The list included the likes of Sergi Bruguera, Carlos Moya, Alex Coretja, Albert Costa, Gaston Gaudio and Guillermo Coria; all good players in their own right, but often referred to as clay court specialists. However, since roughly 2005, this terminology has almost vanished from the tennis vernacular.

This is because there is only one clay court specialist, and he is not just a specialist, he is a master, a man in a league of his own. Indeed, with his 11th Monte Carlo title last week, Rafael Nadal has now won 36 straight sets on clay. Nadal has been the undisputed king of the clay for well over a decade now, but it seems like he only gets more dominant with time. Over the weekend, Kai Nishikori was the one to try and dethrone the king in the Monte Carlo final, and dared jump out to an early lead, but as so often happens, Nadal figured out the problem and sailed to victory in relative comfort.



This week, Nadal’s attention turns to the Barcelona Open, a tournament he has only won 10 times, as he continues his preparation for the French Open. Realistically, nobody would bet against Nadal winning both of these tournaments, it would take a brave man to bet on him losing a set.

Of course, Nadal’s dominance on clay is not the only reason for the seeming decline of the clay court specialist. Spanish and South American players have recognized that by developing their skills for all three surfaces they can achieve year-round success, and the financial benefits of that success. It is only right that we see the talents of these great players on all surfaces, but it begs the question, would someone focusing solely on clay be the only way to compete with Nadal?

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