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Are Vilas's clay court records within Nadal's reach?

Rafael Nadal on his way to a seventh French Open final
by Mark Hodgkinson
Tuesday 22 April 2014
Rafael Nadal's long love affair with Monte Carlo ended last weekend, his record run of eight titles brought to an end by David Ferrer in the quarter-finals. But he is still within touching distance of Guillermo Vilas, as Wimbledon.com explains...
 
Will Rafa Nadal ever have an off-court sideline as a poet? Will the Majorcan ever have any prose or poetry published? Or write a screenplay? Or collaborate on some songs?
 
There are some things that Guillermo Vilas, the Young Bull of the Pampas, accomplished during his playing days that Nadal will almost certainly never emulate. On a burnt-orange tennis court, though, it's an entirely different matter; Nadal could soon tie and break one of the Argentine's most significant clay-court records. He's no poet, but, like Vilas, Nadal is a left-hander who is never better than when raising hell and dust-clouds on a clay court, and who has attracted comparisons with bulls, hence the imagery on his shoes. Nadal, who lost to fellow Spaniard David Ferrer in the quarter-finals of last week's clay-court tournament at the Monte Carlo Country Club, is just three titles short of Vilas's Open-era record of 46 tournament victories on the surface. Barring a career-ending injury, Nadal will pass Vilas's total, either this season or next.
 
Yet Nadal doesn't have to match and then surpass Vilas to be regarded as the greatest clay-courter of all time; he is already seen as such, thanks in no small part to his achievements at Roland Garros, where he has already won eight French Open titles. But the occasion that Nadal moves past Vilas will be another reminder to the tennis galleries that they are watching a special talent. Certainly, there is no harder feat in tennis than beating Nadal on a clay court; he had won eight consecutive titles in Monaco before his defeat to Novak Djokovic last year.
 
When Nadal does win his 47th clay-court title, it won't be the first time that he has eclipsed one of Vilas's records on the surface. Eight years ago, when Nadal won on his opening appearance at the 2006 French Open, it extended his unbeaten run on the surface to an Open-era 54 consecutive matches, which was one more than the streak that Vilas had put together in 1977 (that was a run that ended in controversial circumstances, with Ilie Nastase beating him with a double-strung spaghetti racket, which produced weird spins, and was subsequently outlawed).
 
But there won't be any bitterness on Vilas's part if Nadal breaks another of his clay-court records. It's plain that Vilas, who has an academy in Majorca, has great respect for the way Nadal goes about his clay-court business. "Nadal, Borg and I are big sliders - we know perfectly how to slide, brake and steer on clay, without getting carried away," Vilas has said. "If Americans never win at Roland Garros, it's because they brake with their toes, while the best way to slow down is by putting your foot sideways, a bit like skiing. If you run fast, and you don't know how to stop, you'll end up in Canada." Vilas has spoken of his admiration for how Nadal's uncle and coach, Toni, has guided his nephew throughout his career: "Toni is the one who steers the ship. They know each other very well and Rafa has a lot of confidence in him. Toni knows a lot about tennis and is very intelligent; Rafa trusts him completely."
 
But there is one key clay-court record that Vilas has a decent chance of holding on to. Over the course of his career, he won 644 matches on the dirt. Nadal's not even halfway to that number.  

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