What to make of Rafa’s ninth—yes, his ninth—French Open title in ten years! There’s only so much grinding one player’s mind can withstand in a career, and particularly on clay – a surface where points can be long and punishing and tiring. But Rafa has come closer than any other player to the elusive aim of always competing as if there’s only one point left to play. The tougher the match on clay, the more difficult he is to beat. In best-of-five set matches on clay, Rafa now has an unfathomable record of 90 wins against just one loss.
Tennis is a sport of ebbs and flows. Yesterday in Paris, two worthy knights were locked in an exhilarating joust that went four sets. Towards the end, Rafa was cramping up everywhere and it looked like he couldn’t have played a fifth. The match however did not go the distance. When it was over, Rafael Nadal had halted Novak 3-6, 7-5, 6-2, 6-4 for his ninth French Open singles crown.
In the end both players were models of decorum, a pair of eminent individuals who are outstanding sportsmen and men of considerable character. The King refused to abdicate and maintained supremacy in his kingdom at Roland Garros. The challenger to his kingdom, although vanquished yet another time, earned all admiration and respect. Djokovic was brought to tears by a long standing ovation by the Parisian crowd that can sometimes be so unforgiving. The gracious Nadal comported himself honorably, telling Nole that his day would come at Roland Garros.
But for Rafael Nadal, it was perhaps his most gratifying Roland Garros title run. The cruel loss in the Australian Open final to Stan Wawrinka earlier this year had dented his confidence somewhat. He arrived in Paris having been beaten on clay more times in a single season than any year since 2004. He lost at Monte Carlo, Barcelona and Rome and even though he won in Madrid, one can’t forget that Nishikori had to retire in the final.
As always, there were voices saying that he has won too many at Roland Garros. He’s over the hill. And this was the crack in the armor that would lead to the crumbling of the invincible Rafa this year. Far from it. Where others saw desperation and fading glory, Nadal saw a challenge that he could resonate with, and a source of perpetual motivation that he could use as fuel.
And now he has moved beyond those disappointments to a place where he has been so many times: the winner’s circle at a major tennis tournament. Nadal sobbed, head in hands, before Bjorn Borg awarded him his 10 kilograms of solid silver – the Coupe des Mousquetaires trophy.
The gaping chasm that now stands between what Nadal has done and what others can only dream of doing has expanded again, and while the Spaniard may be the finest, most athletic specimen to ever step foot on a clay court, he believes that his success correlates directly to his inexhaustible will to win.
“To me, winning is the result, the equivalent of lots of effort. Therefore, I feel more serene, and personally I’m very satisfied. You want to enjoy the moment. You feel your emotions when you are there and you did it, because you know how much you worked to be there. But at the same time, it’s not forever. You have a few more opportunities, yes, but you don’t know if you’re going to win it again.”
But no matter what happens in future, when the dust settles, Rafa’s legacy will remain! All that is left to do is to bow in reverence and break out the thesaurus to look for ways to describe Nadal’s unparalleled greatness at the French Open.