Sporting Life

In a Rafa world, sliding on clay is never child's play

Like the dust, he always rises in April. This is his time, his preferred scrap, his favourite music. Thuk, thuk, thuk, you can hear him as his racket pounds his shoes till the clay falls out. Mud in his tyres. Then he looks up, this clay-court scholar, ageing and fallible but so sublime that he has his own personal sandbox. This week he's in Barcelona and he is playing on Pista Rafa Nadal.

Basketball has wooden floors, football has grass, hockey has artificial turf but tennis' aristocrats change surface by the season. They end the year on carpets, start it on hardcourts and in spring they turn into a tribe of terracotta warriors who wander through the clay of Monte Carlo, Barcelona, Madrid, Rome and Paris. It is one of sports' most grimily gorgeous rituals.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 27, 2019, with the headline 'In a Rafa world, sliding on clay is never child's play'. Print Edition | Subscribe