On Wednesday in Barcelona, it looked as if a seemingly impossible feat would rock the tennis world. Leonardo Mayer won the first set, 7-6 (7), against Rafael Nadal, meaning the Spaniard was one set away from losing consecutive clay matches for the first time in his career.
It didn't happen. Nadal would win the next two sets—one could even say comfortably—6-4, 6-2. He plays retiring compatriot David Ferrer in the round of 16.—Nina Pantic
From Thursday, before the Mayer match:
Something rare occurred in Monte Carlo on Saturday: Rafael Nadal lost a match on clay. The 11-time French Open champion, 11-time Barcelona champion and 11-time Monte Carlo champion fell to Fabio Fognini in the semifinals, 6-4, 6-2.
It was just Nadal's third loss in 56 matches on clay since the start of 2017; his fifth loss in 76 matches in Monte Carlo; and just his 37th loss on the surface in his ATP career.
But as unlikely as was his loss to Fognini, Nadal's first opponent in Barcelona—Leonardo Mayer—will have to pull off something even more unlikely. In fact, the Argentine will have to do something that’s never happened in the Spanish legend’s career.
Nadal has never lost two consecutive matches on clay.
That stat doesn't just apply to Nadal's ATP tour career, but his entire professional career. Since Nadal turned pro in 2001, he’s lost a total of 45 times on clay at all levels—including Challenger and Futures events. In his next clay-court match following a loss, Nadal is a perfect 44-0, losing a total of just six sets. And in those 44 follow-up matches, Nadal won 30 of the sets by a 6-0 or 6-1 scoreline.
His closest brush with two straight losses on clay came in 2011, after Nadal fell to Novak Djokovic in the Rome final, 6-4, 6-4, and then found himself down two sets to one against John Isner at Roland Garros. Nadal came back to win that match, 6-4, 6-7 (2), 6-7 (2), 6-2, 6-4.
Nadal has won all five previous meetings, and 13 of 14 sets, against Mayer. The only set he’s dropped to the Argentine came in a 6-7 (3), 6-3, 6-1, 6-4 win at the 2017 US Open.
The world No. 2 is hoping to get back on the winning track as he faces Mayer on Wednesday.
“It’s always special for me to be here and to play this event,” Nadal said. “Going into Monte Carlo with many problems and physical issues probably wasn’t the best preparation for me to start the clay court season, but even like this I played some good matches. I was not able to find the average level in the semifinals—I played a bad match and Fabio played very well, so that’s it, well done for him.
“I’m going to try to keep working well to do better here.”
Nadal's incomparable record in Barcelona includes five straight titles from 2005 to 2009, three straight titles from 2011 to 2013, and another three-peat from 2016 to 2018. He’s 58-3 in his career at the 500-level event, the three losses coming to Alex Corretja in the second round in 2003, Nicolas Almagro in the quarterfinals in 2014 and Fognini in the third round in 2015.
“This is a tennis club that is part of my life,” Nadal said of the Barcelona venue, the Real Club de Tennis Barcelona-1899, which is Spain’s oldest tennis club and has hosted this event since 1953. “This event is a part of the history of our sport. It’s also part of my personal history. It’s always a privilege and a pleasure to play here in front of my people, and I hope to be ready to play well.”
Research courtesy of Tennis Channel's Michael Hastin.