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ANALYSIS: Is Rafael Nadal a much better grass court player than he gets credit for?

ANALYSIS: It is often assumed that grass is Rafael Nadal's poorest surface, but is that actually true? The statistics suggest not...
Rafael Nadal backhand at Wimbledon

As we were settling down to watch Rafael Nadal warm up for his Wimbledon round of 16 match against Botic van der Zandschulp, we were drawn to a comment by John McEnroe.

"If I was Botic, I would be thinking grass is my best chance of beating Rafa," he said.

The Dutchman is decent on grass, but the implication from McEnroe was definitely that grass is Nadal's poorest surface.

But is it? To be fair, McEnroe was not the only person to think it. We did too, so we decided to look at the statistics to see if there is anything behind it or not.

Rafael Nadal grass record by titles

Grass court Tournaments: 24
Grass court titles: 4
Win percentage: 16.6%

Nadal has only won four titles on grass. We say 'only,' but that is because we have been watching him in an era of Roger Federer, Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic, who are all incredible players on grass.

In that company, four grass titles may not seem like many, but there are only 22 men in the history of tennis who have won more than Nadal on the surface. In terms of Wimbledon, there only six men in the open era that have more titles in SW19 than Nadal.

At the time of writing, Nadal has won one grass court title for every eight that he has played in his career. Again, that might seem low, but it places him among some very impressive company, as shown below in the list of men to have won four or more titles on grass.

Matteo Berrettini 4/10 (40.0%)
Roger Federer 19/48 (39.6%)*
Bjorn Borg 7/20 (35.0%)*
Pete Sampras 10/29 (34.5%)*
Rod Laver 8/25 (32.0%)*
Novak Djokovic 7/24 (29.2%)*
John McEnroe 8/28 (28.6%)*
Andy Murray 8/33 (23.5%)*
Alex Metreveli 8/34 (23.5%)
Boris Becker 7/32 (21.9%)*
Michael Stich 4/20 (20.0%)*
Andy Roddick 5/27 (18.5%)
Jimmy Connors 9/49 (18.4%)*
Lleyton Hewitt 8/45 (17.7%)*
Ken Rosewall 8/45 (17.7%)*
Rafael Nadal 4/24 (16.6%)*
Stan Smith 9/54 (16.6%)
Stefan Edberg 5/31 (16.1%)*
John Newcombe 7/49 (14.2%)*
Tony Roche 7/45 (15.6%)
Pat Rafter 4/27 (14.8%)
Arthur Ashe 6/42 (14.3%)*
John Isner 4/29 (13.8%)
Johan Kriek 5/37 (13/5%)
Guillermo Vilas 4/31 (12.9%)*
Greg Rusedski 5/40 (12.5%)
Vijay Amritraj 6/54 (11.1%)
Tom Okker 4/40 (10.0%)
Mark Edmondson 6/65 (9.2%)*
Nicolas Mahut 4/45 (8.9%)
Feliciano Lopez 4/53 (7.5%)
Ray Ruffels 4/58 (6.9%)
(* denotes Major winner on grass)

Rafael Nadal grass record by matches

Matches played: 95
Matches won: 75
Win%: 78.9%

The fact that Rafael Nadal has been on the ATP Tour for 21 years and yet he has not yet racked up 100 matches on grass shows how little he has played on the green stuff.

Then again, 75 wins shows just how good he is. That is a 78.9% win percentage and it is comparable to some very interesting names.

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For example, Stefan Edberg, who won four Grand Slams on grass, albeit in the era when the Australian Open was a grass Slam, finished his career with a 78.6% win record.

Edberg didn't have two players like Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic in his way, and no one would dare suggest that the Swede was anything other than a genuinely brilliant grasscourter.

It also puts him within 3% of both Andy Murray and Boris Becker as well. That is the kind of company Nadal is keeping in terms of his career grass win percentage and it's undeniably impressive.

Rafa grass v Rafa hard

One very interesting comparison here is if we compare Rafael Nadal's record on grass with his record on hardcourts.

Obviously, Nadal is most associated with clay, but you won't find anyone willing to claim he is not brilliant on hard courts too. He is, after all, a six-time major winner on the surface.

Rafael Nadal grass v hard comparison

It's actually strikingly similar, and there is not any real statistical, factual reason to suggest that Nadal is any worse on grass than he is on hardcourts. And we all know how brilliant he is on hardcourts.

So why the perception?

Why Rafael Nadal doesn't get the credit he deserves as a grass courter is probably the inverse effect of why Novak Djokovic doesn't get the credit he deserves as a claycourter.

His record is exceptional on grass and he is among the best in history on the surface. However, players are judged against their contemporaries, and Nadal is simply playing in an era when the bar for grass court greatness has been raised to an unusually high level.

Nadal is brilliant on grass. There is no doubt about it. The statistics prove it.

If Stefan Edberg was brilliant on grass, and he was, then so is Rafael Nadal. If Nadal is brilliant on hard, and he is, he is brilliant on grass too. It's that simple.

He is obviously not the favourite for Wimbledon as long as Djokovic is still there, but you'd expect him to beat anyone else in the draw, probably with relative comfort.

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