There are certain things in sport one tends to take for granted. New Zealand will be one of the best rugby union sides in the world. Ferrari will be a staple on the Formula One grid. And Rafael Nadal will win the French Open.
By clinching his tenth Roland Garros title on Sunday, the Spaniard’s place in history was further confirmed. Never before has a male tennis player exerted such dominance over one single event, with only Margaret Court able to boast of similar dominance at a Grand Slam having claimed 11 Australian Open titles during her illustrious career.
Yet it is the era in which Nadal has stamped his mark on the red Parisian courts that makes the Mallorcan’s feat even more astounding. In 2005, a fresh-faced Nadal stormed to his first French Open title in a field including Andre Agassi, Andy Roddick and a certain Roger Federer.
In the 13 years that have followed, Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray, Juan Martin del Potro, Marin Cilic and Stan Wawrinka have claimed Grand Slam titles. None of them, with the exception of Djokovic in 2015 against an injury-stricken Nadal, have ever come close to knocking the great man off his perch.
Indeed, the only opponent who has ever looked like overcoming Nadal at Roland Garros is Nadal himself. Granted, both Djokovic in 2015 and Robin Soderling in 2009 have tasted victory against the Spaniard, but neither were faced with a fully-fit opponent. That by no means should take away from the scale of their achievement, but when Nadal is fit and firing on all cylinders, he proves to be nigh on unstoppable on clay.
Debates will now rage as to where Nadal ranks on the list of all-time greats. He is already in the conversation of course – with 15 Grand Slam titles in total, how could he not be? Yet critics will point to the fact that two-thirds of Nadal’s triumphs have come on that Roland Garros clay he has made his own. Should that be a detrimental factor in considering the Spaniard’s place in history, however? As mentioned, never before has the world of men’s tennis seen such dominance at a single event.
Each observer will have their own favourites, their own opinions and their own reasoning as to their particular beliefs. Yet one fact remains a unifying presence in the minds of tennis fans worldwide – Rafael Nadal is the undisputed king of clay.
by Craig Wright