Rafael Nadal Wins Record French Open, Restores Normalcy to Sports

With another remarkable performance in the French Open final, Raphael Nadal continues to make history.

By Jane Voigt

Updated: October 12, 2020 • 4:45 AM ET

Rafael Nadal has won a record number of Grand Slam titles.

Rafael Nadal has restored normalcy to sports.

In a world rocked by a pandemic, Nadal’s 13th Grand Slam title won at the French Open Sunday interrupted an otherworldly sense that nothing, in fact, made sense.

“I want to send a message to everyone around the world. We are facing one of the worst moments I think we remember fighting against this virus,” Nadal said on court, ending with a prophetic plea, “Just keep going, stay positive.“

Although a Nadal victory at the French Open was expected, his 6-0, 6-2, 7-5 victory was a one-sided affair against the top seed and No. 1 player in the world, Novak Djokovic. With this win, Nadal tied Roger Federer with the most Grand Slam men’s singles titles at 20.

“(To) win here means everything to me, no?” Nadal said. “It’s not the moment, honestly ... (to) think today about the 20th. Roland Garros means everything to me. I spent, here, the most important moments — or most of the most important moments — in my tennis career, no doubt about that.”

However, Federer was outspoken about Nadal’s achievement, writing on Twitter, “I have always had the utmost respect for my friend Rafa as a person and as a champion. As my greatest rival over many years, I believe we have pushed each other to become better players. Therefore, it is a true honor for me to congratulate him on his 20th Grand Slam victory. It is especially amazing that he has now won Roland Garros an incredible 13 times, which is one of the greatest achievements in sport. I also congratulate his team because nobody can do this alone. I hope 20 is just another step on the contenting journey for both of us. Well done, Rafa. You deserve it.”

Djokovic agreed profusely.

"I don't have much to say but that I was completely overplayed by Rafa, by the better player on the court," Djokovic told reporters after the match via Yahoo Sports. "He was not missing at all and getting every ball back, just playing tactically great. I felt well throughout the entire tournament. I thought I was in a great form.

"Certainly, I could have played better, especially in the first two sets, but he did surprise me with the way he was playing and the quality of tennis he was producing. He's phenomenal. He played a perfect match, especially in the first two sets."

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Nadal’s unprecedented honors were also captured through the lens of tennis history. It was his 100th victory in Paris, bringing his head-to-head record there to 100-2, an impossibly impressive record that may never be equaled.

If any man could have defeated Nadal at the French Open, it was Djokovic, who came in with the all-time 29-26 edge. He defeated Nadal once in Paris, during the quarterfinals in 2015, as did the now-retired Robin Soderling in 2010 during the Round of 16. Nonetheless, the Serbian hardly made a dent in Nadal’s defense and seemed to spur on Nadal’s offense when Djokovic won points.

“In Australia he killed me a couple of times,” Nadal told the one-thousand fans inside Court Phillipe Chatrier. “One day he [one of us] wins, another day the other {one wins].”

The opening moments of the final set the stage for the afternoon. Nadal was relentless, only committing two unforced errors in the opening set. He anticipated every move from Djokovic, ran down every ball he spun across the net, even drop shots that seemed like instant winners.

At the opening of the second set, Djokovic pumped up his game, displayed his unmistakable style of aggression and penetrated ground strokes with courage to do whatever he had to do to collapse the momentum Nadal had gained after only 45 minutes. Nevertheless, Djokovic ended with only two games for the set.

In the third set, Djokovic stayed neck-and-neck with Nadal, until he broke to lead 6-5, a fateful game he may rue for some time.

“I have seen Vamos-Rafa play a ton over last 17 years,” former coach, pro player and tennis commentator Brad Gilbert wrote on Twitter. “Today from start to finish the highest level I have ever seen from him, the closing door game at 6-5 in 3rd set to hold to love….what was at stake simply phenomenal thing to watch.”

This French Open, like the U.S. Open, was played under tight restrictions due to the pandemic. Only 1,000 fans were allowed entry each day over the two weeks, when a month prior to its starting date that number had been 5,000. With cases rising in France, the French Tennis Federation did the right thing in preventing the virus’ spread. Additionally, this major is normally played in the spring at the end of May.

"What you’re doing on this court is unbelievable, not just this court, throughout your entire career you’ve been a great champion," Djokovic said. "Today you showed why you’re King of the Clay. I’ve experienced it in my own skin.

"It was a very tough match for me today. Obviously, I’m not so pleased with the way I played but I was definitely overplayed by a better player today on the court. It’s been a fantastic couple of weeks. The situation is very difficult for everyone worldwide but we have the possibility to play the sport we love."

The normalcy Nadal’s win brought to tennis also shored up the dominance of the so-called Big Three: Nadal, Djokovic and Federer. Since Federer took the year off for a second surgery on his knee and Nadal didn’t travel to New York for the U.S. Open, and with Wimbledon scrapped in the spring, they still managed to keep their grip on the game, having won 57 of the last 67 Grand Slam singles titles.

“In some ways [I’m] not that happy because we can’t celebrate the tournament in the normal way,” Nadal ended, shining a bright light on his love for this slam. “For me, winning here for another time is [something] I can’t even say is a dream. It’s something that’s out of my better thoughts. Super happy. Merci tous la monde.”

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