When Rafael Nadal won his first Roland-Garros in 2005, a few days after his 19th birthday, there was some sort of obviousness. It would not be a “one shot”. We took it for a few years of land domination, and therefore Parisian. But from there to imagine that, fifteen years later, we would still be there, to contemplate his reign … This one more and more resembles an absolute monarchy, even though Wawrinka, Federer and Djokovic have succeeded, in this decade and a half, to collect a crumb each, which weighs so much in their respective careers.
Nadal therefore lifted his 13th Coupe des Mousquetaires on Sunday, with his 100th match won. This double mark is however almost eclipsed today by that of the 20 Grand Slam titles. Well Named. By equaling Roger Federer’s record, the Spanish champion has taken another step forward in the history of his sport, even if he does not gallop after this kind of accomplishment. “You can’t be frustrated because the neighbor has a bigger house“, he said last year about this famous record. Today, his house is as beautiful and as big as that of Federer.
But it is the Parisian wing of his imposing residence that catches the eye the most. 13 tracks. The number (even plus the number …) claps surrealistically. Never has a player won a tournament, however minor, so many times. And he accomplishes this miracle in one of the four Grand Slam tournaments. 13 titles in 16 editions. It’s wacky, surreal, whatever you want. But it is for this reason that it is especially important not to doubt him. Neither before this tournament nor before this final.
There were some objective reasons to wonder. Not a tournament in seven months and only two matches under the elbow when arriving in Paris. It was little. Then these conditions, heavy, wet, which do not serve his monstrous lift and the indecent rebound that ensues. Nadal had even railed after the new balls used in Paris. He preferred the previous ones. But regardless of the season, the balls, the roof or not the roof, the wind, the sun, the shade or the rain, the primordial element, the only one that matters, remains still and always the same: under his feet, clay. Here more than elsewhere, it should never be buried.
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Nadal has had a share of success in this fortnight: a very lenient table until the quarter-finals (at least), which allowed him to acquire this playing time which he lacked. His margin is such in Paris over ordinary people that he was able to use his first laps as a life-size preparation for the final games.
Once in his rhythm, the number of players likely to beat him in three winning sets on his favorite surface can be counted, not on the fingers of one hand, but on one finger. A great Thiem, potentially, but he’s never realized it yet. No, the only one of size to break it was Novak Djokovic. The player who had beaten him the most on earth. One of the two players to have beaten him in Paris. A player in full confidence, winner in Rome and beaten by no one in 2020, except himself.
For all these reasons, Rafael Nadal’s victorious 13th final is perhaps, if not the most beautiful, the most impressive. With the dessert as a starter, this scathing 6-0, like an echo to that of the 2008 final against Federer. Djokovic will only have scored seven games. And that, frankly, was impossible to imagine. A victory for Nadal, yes, a butcher’s shop, no. It’s the most amazing with him. After fifteen years, he still manages to surprise.
Everyone, and he included himself in it, because he thought he was really capable of unbolting the king, or even that the playing conditions would favor him. He was wrong and all of us with him.
Despite his phenomenal career, the Mallorcan has faced skepticism more than once. Very young, already. With a game requiring such commitment, it wouldn’t last. It was certain. As a result, 15 years and 4 months separate his first from his most recent Grand Slam title. Unheard of in the Open era. Bim, the skeptics. Rather, I sided with those skeptics about 15 years ago, so I am taking my modest part.
, when nothing was going well, when he took three small sets from the Chatrier, when he found a way to lose in five sets at the US Open after leading two sets to nothing. Two anomalies in his career.
But you don’t bury a champion of this caliber. Doubting Nadal is dangerous. To doubt him at Roland Garros is madness. In this world so uncertain, no one can say where we will all be in seven months, when Roland Garros, hopefully, returns. But learn the lesson well: you will take the risk of doubting Nadal at your own expense.
Rafa Nadal, Roland Garros