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Rafael Nadal after his victory against Roger Federer in the 2011 Roland Garros Final, his 6th title

Remember Paris, 2011: Agassi On Nadal's Clay Form

A host of former champions, including Agassi and Kuerten, remember each of Nadal’s first six triumphs at Roland Garros

Final, d. Federer 7-5, 7-6(3), 5-7, 6-1

Rafael Nadal’s confidence was somewhat shaken as he began his bid for a record-equalling sixth Roland Garros title in 2011. Although he was still ranked No. 1 in the world, he had lost two clay-court finals to Novak Djokovic in the month of May - both in straight sets.

To top it off, Nadal drew possibly the trickiest of first-round opponents in John Isner. The 6’9” American won the second and third set tie-breaks to put the five-time champion on the ropes, only to see the Spaniard step up and prevail in his first Roland Garros five-setter.

“Nadal ensures his opponents have to deal with a variety of spins, and his margin for error in these long rallies is incomprehensible,” explains Andre Agassi, who won the Roland Garros title in 1999 after runner-up finishes in 1990 and ’91. “He hits close to the lines to move his opponent around the court. He strikes his forehand so he puts it above his opponent’s shoulder and Nadal is consistently great in defence.

“That is why Nadal is so tricky to beat in five sets, especially at Roland Garros. He is like a boxer who constantly jabs. It totally wears an opponent down.”

With his match against Isner serving as a wake-up call, a vintage Nadal swept through his next matches against Pablo Andujar, Antonio Veic, Ivan Ljubicic, Robin Soderling and Andy Murray in straight sets. In the other half of the draw, Roger Federer took care of Novak Djokovic in the semi-finals, putting an end to the Serbian’s 41-0 start to the season.

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In the fourth Roland Garros final between the long-time rivals, Nadal once again emerged victorious, defeating Federer 7-5, 7-6(3), 5-7, 6-1 in three hours and 40 minutes.

“Nadal’s dominance over the years is down to the fact that he has a number of advantages,” says Agassi. “He moves the best that anyone has moved on clay - and perhaps on any surface. Djokovic has closed the gap, improving his own movement, but Nadal has so many weapons on red dirt.

“Can Djokovic and Federer beat him at Roland Garros? Yes, of course they can, but they have to be at 100 per cent the whole match and take risks. The way Djokovic has hurt him in the past 18 months is by stepping into the court to take the ball early. It is a risky strategy and hard to do over a prolonged period in a match.”

With his victory over Federer, the 25-year-old Nadal matched Borg’s six Roland Garros crowns - a record many thought would never be touched.

Rafael Nadal’s achievements at Roland Garros and on clay courts are right up there with the greatest in any era of tennis,” says Agassi.

- With assistance from James Buddell

REMEMBER PARIS
2005: Chang On The First Triumph
2006: Kuerten On Being Defending Champion
2007: Moya On Playing Nadal
2008: Gilbert On A Dominant Performance
2010: Wilander On A Momentous Win
2011: Agassi On Nadal's Clay Form

2012 Tribute: Roland Garros Is Rafa's House