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Spaniard seeks 11th French Open title

Nadal has only lost twice in Paris

Pat Cash and Mats Wilander give their views

Roland Garros, France CNN  — 

Rafael Nadal is known as the “King of Clay” and it’s not for his pottery skills.

The 16-time grand slam champion has won an unprecedented 10 French Open titles and is odds-on favorite to win an 11th.

No player in history has won as many grand slam titles at a single tournament.

The Spaniard won the French Open on his debut as a 19-year-old and came into this year’s event with a 79-2 win-loss record at Roland Garros.

Recently, he compiled a remarkable streak of 25 straight victories on clay and also set a record of 50 consecutive sets won on a single surface.

But what makes the greatest clay-courter of his generation so good on the slow red dirt?

Former grand slam winners Pat Cash, Mats Wilander and Yannick Noah talked CNN Sport through the Mallorcan’s game.

READ: Who can beat the King of Clay in Paris?

READ: Why Rafael Nadal is all at sea during his time off


Nadal's athleticism gives him an edge on clay.

“He’s unbelievably fast, and he can keep going forever, which helps on the clay,” Australia’s Cash, the 1987 Wimbledon champion, said in an interview at Roland Garros.

“He keeps getting the ball back, his speed and athleticism is just phenomenal.

“His footwork on the clay is amazing, I don’t think I’ve ever seen anybody move that quick on the clay.”

Top spin

Rafael Nadal is looking to stretch his Parisian domination to 11 French Open titles.

Nadal’s technique also sets him apart.

“We have never seen a player hit so much top spin before,” said Cash, who now coaches American Coco Vandeweghe.

“The power he puts into the shots and the top spin is just very, very hard to control on a slow court over five sets.

“The quicker the courts get, the harder it is going to be for him to actually create that top spin and the ball skidding through.

“But when he has a little bit of extra time, and he can move back further and give himself more time to hit, he’s able to hit the ball with more spin, which enables the ball to bounce higher and push the opponent around.”

Mental strength

Nadal's mental strength is "ferocious," says Pat Cash.

In addition to his technical abilities, Nadal’s mental strength is what truly sets him apart from the rest of the field.

“Mentally, he’s just ferocious,” Cash said.

“Clay is one of the toughest surfaces to be successful at, because you have to be focused all the time, the momentum can change very quickly.

“On grass or other courts, you can hold your serve, or hit a couple of big serves and stay in it, but not on the clay, you have to be persistent all the time.”