How much should you want something? As much as Rafael Nadal wants the French Open, year after year. In claiming his 14th La Coupe des Mousquetaires, the Spaniard has redefined get-up-and-go in sport to mean a relentless pursuit of the one title that could be named interchangeably after him, once the crunching forehand finally stops whizzing across the court. He has more Grand Slam wins than any other player, and is one shy of Serena Williams’ mark, two short of Margaret Court. By winning 14 of those 22 at Roland Garros, the 36-year-old has ensured that “who can stop Nadal at the French Open” remains the sole FAQ relevant since 2005, when he first won to start a springtime ritual.
Like Nadal, Real Madrid too won their 14th European title this month. An avid football fan, Nadal snuck out in the middle of the Roland Garros fortnight to witness Madrid’s win over Liverpool, who incidentally had won the Champions League title in 2005, the year Rafa first dominated the Roland Garros clay courts. After his fanboy moment at the Champions League final, he took out four of the top 10 opponents. He defeated Norway’s Casper Ruud 6-3, 6-3, 6-0 in the final, reiterating just how unshakeable his faith is in winning on his favourite surface.
Nadal had rallied from two sets down to beat Medvedev for the Australian Open, but his path at the French had been treacherous — he could barely walk after beating Corentin Moutet in Round Two. Only four men have nicked a total of seven sets off him — Puerta, Federer, Djokovic and Thiem in 17 editions. He’s never been dragged into the fifth set of a French Open final. At Roland Garros, Nadal comes prepped to blitz and batter to dust the impossible dreams of opponents.
This editorial first appeared in the print edition on June 7, 2022 under the title ‘Play like Rafa’.