Today, playing at the Barcelona Open, a tournament he has won 10 times, on a court officially named “Pista Rafa Nadal,” Rafael Nadal won his 39th and 40th consecutive sets on clay. This extends an Open Era–record for consecutive sets on clay courts, per the ATP, that Nadal first set last Sunday in the Monte Carlo Masters final. (He displaced Guillermo Coria’s 35-set streak from 2003-2004.)
Rafa has had broader and more brain-melting streaks—from 2005 to 2007, he won 81 straight matches on clay, an all-time best on any one surface—but this particular record tracks the wholesale genius and sustained focus required to not even drop a set. There are a lot of sets out there. It doesn’t take a whole lot of inattention to drop one. Just one glitchy service game somewhere in there, a spat of dehydration, an itch, an ache, whatever. In any case it hasn’t happened in the last 16 matches.
The last time Nadal dropped a set on clay was a loss to Dominic Thiem in Rome last May. Last week, Thiem, an elite clay-court player, was deleted by Nadal in straight sets, winning only two games total. This week, Thiem is one of the seven remaining players in this Barcelona draw. Scan of all their previous records against Rafa on clay, and collectively, these seven men have won six sets to Rafa’s 41. Someone pinch me if this consecutive-set streak ends anytime before the French Open. (Next year’s, I mean.)