Seven Players at This Year’s French Open Who have Beaten Rafael Nadal on Clay

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Rafael Nadal suffered a minor blip in an otherwise dominant clay season last week, losing in straight sets to Dominic Thiem. He’ll be disappointed to have surrendered the No. 1 ranking, but few would bet against Nadal picking up his 11th French Open in a few weeks.

It’s hard to see anyone stopping the Spaniard in a best of five match at Roland Garros, especially when two of the few players on tour who have beaten him on clay, Roger Federer and Andy Murray, will not be competing.

So who can dethrone the King of Clay? It’s possible that a newcomer will step up and shock the world. However, there are a handful of players who have already beaten him on his favorite surface, and they might just do it again. Here is a list of the players competing at this year’s French Open that have defeated Nadal on clay.

Novak Djokovic

Overall Head to Head: 26-24

Head to Head on Clay: 7-15

Last 5 Matches on Clay: 3-2

Djokovic has struggled to return to form since his comeback, but there’s no doubt he has been Nadal’s greatest nemesis on clay for some time. The last man to defeat the Spaniard at the French Open, Djokovic has won three of their last four clashes on clay. Beating Nadal in Paris has proven far more difficult for the Serbian, however, as he has lost six of their seven clashes there. Most of those losses were pretty competitive though, especially the 2013 semi-final where Djokovic suffered a heart-breaking 6-4 3-6 6-1 6-7 9-7 loss. Djokovic has also won 11 of their last 13 matches on all surfaces, which would surely give him a significant psychological edge over Nadal in their next clash.
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Dominic Thiem

Overall Head to Head: 3-6

Head to Head on Clay: 3-6

Last 5 Matches on Clay: 2-3

The Austrian has handed Nadal his last two defeats on clay, beating him in straight sets on both occasions. Thiem is widely regarded as the second best player on clay, although Alexander Zverev might have something to say about that. All nine of Thiem’s clashes with Nadal have occurred on clay and he has managed to get the better of the Spaniard three times, at the Rome Masters, Beunos Aires, and the Madrid Masters. Nonetheless, Nadal has the edge overall, winning six of their nine matches in straight sets and making fairly light work of Thiem in their French open semi-final last year. His 6-0 6-2 destruction of the Austrian on the slower Monte Carlo surface will also give him plenty of confidence if they cross paths at Roland Garros this year.
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Fabio Fognini

Overall Head to Head: 3-11

Head to Head on Clay: 2-6

Last 5 Matches on Clay: 1-4

Fognini is one of the few players on tour who has won two consecutive matches (at Barcelona and Rio de Janeiro in 2015) against Nadal on clay. The erratic Italian has given Nadal plenty of problems in recent years, winning three of their four matches on all surfaces in 2015. Nadal was visibly short on confidence that year, however, and has generally come out on top against Fognini in their other encounters. He has won their last three matches on clay, but was pushed to the limit by the Italian at the Madrid Masters last year and in Rome this past week.
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Stan Wawrinka

Overall Head to Head: 3-16

Head to Head on Clay: 1-7

Last 5 Matches on Clay: 1-4

The former French Open champion and two-time finalist beat Nadal at the semifinals of the Rome Masters in 2014, 7-6 6-2. It could have been very different if Nadal had closed out the first set when he led 6-2 in the tie-break. Wawrinka saved those set points with a string of winners and never looked back. Apart from that match, the Swiss has had little success against Rafa on clay. In fact, he has failed to win a single set against Nadal in any of their other matches on the red dirt. That includes a comprehensive demolition in last year’s French Open final. Wawrinka will struggle to match his previous runs at Roland Garros this year given that he has had a lengthy injury layoff and little match practice after pulling out of the Madrid Masters.
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David Ferrer

Overall Head to Head: 6-24

Head to Head on Clay: 2-19

Last 5 Matches on Clay: 1-4

The aging Ferrer doesn’t exactly have an exceptional record against Nadal on clay, losing 19 of their 21 matches on the surface. However, few players can say that they have registered two victories against the King of Clay. He has lost their last three matches on the dirt since his victory at the Monte Carlo Masters, but pushed Nadal on each of those occasions, taking a set each time (including the French Open final). The bad news for Ferrer is that his last victory over Nadal was four years ago and their last clash, a tight three-setter in Monte Carlo, was three years ago. Ferrer has experienced a steady decline since then and it’s hard to see him reproducing that kind of form at the age of 36. That said, clay is arguably his best surface and he will draw plenty of confidence from their most recent encounters.
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Fernando Verdasco

Overall Head to Head: 3-17

Head to Head on Clay: 1-7

Last 5 Matches on Clay: 1-4

After losing 14 consecutive matches against Nadal, Verdasco stunned his compatriot on his favourite surface with a three-set victory at the Madrid Masters. Nadal has won their last four matches on clay since then, but they have been reasonably competitive. Verdasco has had much more success against him in recent years, winning three of their last six matches since he broke that 14-match losing streak. However, at 34 years of age, it’s likely that his best days are now behind him.
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Horacio Zeballos

Overall Head to Head: 1-2

Head to Head on Clay: 1-2

Last 5 Matches on Clay: 1-2

Zeballos is probably the least likely player on this list to take Nadal out at this year’s French Open. His sole win against the Spaniard came in his comeback tournament after a long injury layoff. A win is a win though, and he will draw confidence from it if they meet in Paris.
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