Friday 10 to 1: clay court killers
With the clay court season in full swing ahead of the French Open, we take a look this Friday at the 10 best players to grace the dirt.
With the claycourt season in full swing, we get to see a different brand of tennis in action – sliding, drop shots, angles, exquisite point construction and gruelling baseline rallies.
And no one did these things better than the list of 10 players below.
This Friday, we take a look at 10 of the most dominant clay court players, and reflect on some of the outstanding records and accomplishments they achieved on the dirt.
Kuerten may have hailed from Brazil, but his spiritual home was Roland Garros, with the French fans falling in love with his languid game, balance, shot-making skills and mane of curls. His one-handed backhand and topspin proved perfectly suited to the terre battue in Paris, where he won three times – in 1997, 2000 and 2001. Kuerten’s signature move came in 2001 where he drew a heart in the clay after winning the title, a symbol of his reciprocal love for the French fans. Kuerten captured 14 career claycourt titles and finished his career with a 70% success rate on the surface.
The gritty Spaniard was built to play on clay, her ability to track down every ball and play with utmost consistency keys to her success on the surface. Her 342 match wins on clay stands as a female record, and her resume also inlcudes three titles at Roland Garros. Sanchez Vicario’s last victory at the world’s greatest claycourt tournament came in 1998 – four years after her previous title there – in an emotional final against Monica Seles.
Thomas Muster was such a titan on clay, that of his 44 career titles, 40 came on the dirt. One of those was at Roland Garros in 1995, a year in which he thoroughly dominated the clay, compiling a 40-match winning streak on the surface that year, and a subsequent streak of 38 match wins on clay from 1995 into 1996. During those two years, his collective win-loss record on clay reached a stratospheric 111-5. His 422 career wins on clay is the third best tally in history, behind only Guillermo Vilas and Manuel Orantes.
In a sign of her clay court credentials, Seles first Grand Slam title came at Roland Garros in 1990, the first of three straight French Open crowns (a record equalled by Justine Henin from 2005-2007). Seles ability to hit through the slow red dirt helped her win over 85% of her career matches on clay, an incredible win-loss record of 142-25. Her win over arch rival Steffi Graf in the 1992 French Open final is widely regarded as one of the greatest matches of all time.
Much like Kuerten, the French were captivated by Henin’s stylish game, built around a fluid one-handed backhand, racquet artistry and variety, and exceptional movement. The little Belgian won her first career major title at Roland Garros in 2003 – controversially ending Serena Williams’ 33-match Grand Slam winning streak in the semifinals – and went on to win another three straight from 2005-2007. Henin practically owned Roland Garros at her peak, winning 40 consecutive sets from 2005-2010 (a record she shares with Helen Wills Moody). In 2005, she went undefeated on clay in 24 matches, and finished her career with a 130-22 (85.53%) record on clay, the best behind only Chris Evert and Steffi Graf.
The Argentine’s clay court resume stands above most others, highlighted by a win-loss record of 632-162, or 79.6%. Those 632 wins are by far an Open Era record, as are (among men) his 46 titles on clay. Despite his dominance on the surface – he once won 53 consecutive matches on clay, a record until Rafael Nadal came along – he only won once at Roland Garros, in 1977.
The Swede was a clay machine, racking up titles with regularity at Roland Garros and finishing his career with six French Open titles, inlcuding four straight from 1978-1981. Borg’s claycourt win-loss record of 245-39 gives him a success rate of 86.3% on clay, second only to Rafael Nadal. His topspin – revolutionary in the game at that stage – and safe, well-struck groundstrokes were perfectly suited to clay, and saw him build a 46-match winning streak on the dirt between 1977 and 1979. Below are highlights from his final Roland Garros victory.
Despite clay being her self-proclaimed worst surface, Steffi Graff still managed to win a whopping six trophies at Roland Garros from nine finals, the last win coming in 1999 in a stunning decider against then-world No.1 Martina Hingis. Graf’s heavy forehand and biting slice backhand, as well as her stellar footwork, made her a force on the dirt, and helped her accrue a 90.10% winning record on the surface (273 wins, 30 losses), a success rate second only to Chris Evert.
Since capturing his first title at Roland Garros in 2005, Nadal has lost just once at the French Open – in the fourth round in 2009 – and has captured a men’s record of seven French Open titles, surpassing Borg’s tally of six with his victory in 2012. His incredible run of victories at Monte Carlo (eight titles) recently came to an end at the hands of Novak Djokovic in his ninth final, yet his winning record in clay finals still stands at an exceptional 38-5. In fact, Nadal went a perfect 18-0 in claycourt finals until his loss to Roger Federer in the 2007 Hamburg decider. Nadal’s 81-match winning streak on clay from 2005-2007 and his claycourt win loss record of 270-21 (92.8%) are both all-time men’s records.
A winning streak of 125 match wins on clay. That stat in itself is enough to hand Chris Evert the title of the greatest clay court player who ever lived. That streak, which lasted from August 1973 to May 1979 is a record for both the male and female games, and is unlikely ever to be broken. Evert also owns a winning record on clay of 316-20 (an incredible 94.05% success rate, and another tennis record). Her seven French Open titles is a female record, matched only by Rafael Nadal. Here’s footage of her record-breaking seventh title in Paris in 1986.