APRIL 21 - MAY 4, 2025

Nadal’s influence on clay, Ruud and Tsitsipas have their say

Rafael Nadal has somehow excelled in a situation where anyone else would be expected to completely lose their way. No other surface requires the variety of shots demanded by clay, resulting in more decision making and, therefore, more opportunities to falter. The permanent workload means the rewards are not immediately reaped. The challenge posed is practically impossible to overcome for anyone of an impatient disposition. Put simply, there are no shortcuts to victory on the red stuff. Dig deep or go home. However, if anyone has mastered the art it is, without a doubt, the Spanish legend.

Anyone bidding for glory in the future will surely know where to look for an example to follow.

His legacy on the surface is a source of inspiration for the likes of Casper Ruud and Stefanos Tsitsipas, two players vying to take the baton and become the new king of the rust-stained socks. Having taken one title apiece in Barcelona and Monte Carlo, both reaching the first two finals on the European clay swing, the Norwegian and Greek spoke about the impact Nadal has had on their knowledge of the game. He is an influence, a role model and a daily inspiration as they battle for their dreams.

“Many of the big clay tournaments I’ve won are thanks to him”, explained Tsitsipas. A one-time runner-up at the French Open and three-time champion of the ATP Masters 1000 in Monte Carlo, the world No. 7 heaped praise on the Spaniard. “His game is a source of inspiration for all the players, who try to emulate his best qualities on clay. It’s something he’s been doing extraordinarily well for over a decade”.

Tsitsipas is speaking with first-hand experience. He has long used Nadal’s game as his instruction manual, observing the Spaniard’s expertise on the brick dust to try and inject some of the magic into his own game. His record is proof of the fruits of his labour; Stefanos is one of the few players to have seen off Nadal in Caja Mágica and came within one point of doing so in a final in Barcelona, something no other player has done.

“I try and apply some of the things that he has been using very effectively and accurately to my game. I feel like he’s been a great example of what clay-court tennis should be and how it should be played”, noted the Greek, who has won 104 of the 136 matches he has played on the surface throughout his career. “After all, he’s the greatest in our sport. It’s a shame we won’t see him again in Madrid, but his legacy will live on forever. He’s had some absolutely stellar performances and set records that I don’t think will be broken again in tennis”.

Apart from his extensive list of tangible achievements, Nadal has changed the mentality of the entire generation that follows him. Every time the Manacor native steps on the clay, the rest have an opportunity to study a craftsman working on yet another masterpiece. It’s an image that is etched into the mind of Ruud, now one of the favourites every time his name appears in the draw at a clay event. The world No. 6, who has polished his game at the Mallorcan’s academy, is open about the magnitude of the influence Rafa has had on his blossoming game.

“I still remember the first time I watched him play, I was probably 6 years old, that was when he won his first Roland Garros”, revealed Casper in the Caja Mágica. “I remember I watched with my father on TV back home in Norway. I loved tennis before watching this match but it made me maybe become a professional. That’s what I remember saying to myself. This looks fun and I wanna play tennis on TV when I grow up”.

Fast forward two decades and the Scandinavian has grown accustomed to the cameras’ gaze. Ruud reached the last two finals at the French Open, facing Nadal in 2022. Having claimed the biggest trophy of his career in Barcelona, opening the door to a new dimension in his career, he now is more aware than ever of the Spaniard’s importance in his journey.

“Watching him planted something of a seed in my mind. Obviously clay is my personal favourite surface because it suits my game the best. For sure, there’s something of an influence from Rafa as well. I never really tried to copy Rafa because I thought it was going to be too difficult to play like him. But obviously my forehand has a lot of topspin, kind of similar to what he has. His numbers on clay are just a joke, some of his records will never be broken. Rafa’s had a big influence on me and many other players on clay”.

Although the Mutua Madrid Open is about to witness a legend’s final farewell, his influence will be felt in the locker room for eternity.