Sometimes you have to deconstruct preconceived ideas. At Tennis Break News, after Rafael Nadal's surprise defeat in the Monte-Carlo quarter-finals, shaken by an incredible Andrey Rublev (6-2, 4-6, 6-2), we first wondered if the young Russian would be able to follow up. It's never easy to repeat the same kind of performance after 2 hours and 30 minutes of fierce combat, first on a physical level, but even more so on a nervous level. Such a victory, against the best clay-court player of all time, inevitably generates a lot of emotions and an obvious loss of energy in the following hours. But as Rublev is a phenomenon, he managed to dominate Casper Ruud in the next round without too much difficulty, thus qualifying for his first Masters 1000 final. So we asked ourselves another question: isn't it a new feat to win the famous "match after" a win against Nadal? Without giving it much thought, the answer seemed pretty clear: of course it's very strong and of course it must be rare and exceptional! Except that, looking at some statistics, we realised that Andey Rublev's case... was far from isolated.
Indeed, you may not believe it, but since the Majorcan's first ATP title on clay, in Sopot in 2004, the players who have managed to beat him on the ochre surface have more often won, than lost, the next match! The record is 13 wins to 11 losses. An astonishing ratio, which puts Rublev's performance into perspective, far from being unprecedented. But beware! It is worth going even further and nuancing this statistic. First of all, this near tie (13/11) proves that even if you have succeeded in crushing the ogre of the ochre, it is quite common to break down in the next match, against a player who, in principle, is less strong than Nadal on clay. Then, when you take a closer look at the list of Nadal's defeated players, you realise that the majority of those who have knocked him down before confirming in the next round are almost all among the biggest names on the circuit since the early 2000s. Who are they? Novak Djokovic and Dominic Thiem on three occasions each, Gaston Gaudio, Robin Soderling, Fabio Fognini, Diego Schwartzman and, of course, Andrey Rublev. The last two who managed to "double" their win against the Spaniard are a notch or two below, Igor Andreev and Pablo Cuevas.
Finally, it is interesting to note that the players who have been beaten in the wake of Rafael Nadal are mostly well below the Spaniard's level on clay: Alberto Martin, Ivan Navarro, Tomas Berdych, Guido Pella, Kevin Anderson, Dusan Lajovic, Daniil Medvedev, Denis Shapovalov and Casper Ruud. On the other hand, it is extremely complicated to win a second consecutive match against one of the best players in the world after having won against the Spaniard. It was impossible for Juan-Carlos Ferrero and David Ferrer to beat Stan Wawrinka after Nadal, impossible for Wawrinka to beat Roger Federer after Nadal, and impossible for Andy Murray, Dominic Thiem and Stefanos Tsitsipas to do the Nadal-Djokovic double.
While statistically Nadal's tormentors have won the tournament seven times in a row, a closer look shows that it's not easy to beat Nadal before the last four. The last few cases similar to Rublev - who beat Nadal in the quarters and won in the semis - have all failed to reach the final (Schwartzman, Thiem, Djokovic twice).
In short, while it is not impossible to continue to win after dominating the great "Rafa", despite all the energy spent on this endeavour, it is better to do so :
- be a seasoned and experienced athlete to achieve this end
- not to fall next to another major player on the circuit
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