Lucky No. 13: Nadal Saves Best For Last At Roland Garros

WASHINGTON, October 12, 2020 (by Michael Dickens)

While it’s arguable that Sunday’s performance under a closed roof at Court Philippe-Chatrier was his finest French Open victory, Rafael Nadal made quite a statement for himself – especially for someone who already had won 12 Roland Garros titles. Now, he has 13 – and there’s nothing unlucky about it at all.

After beating World No. 1 Novak Djokovic 6-0, 6-2, 7-5 in just two hours and 41 minutes, Nadal has won 13 Roland Garros titles on clay – including four straight – and just as significant, Roger Federer now has company at the top of the career major titles list with 20.

“It’s clear today was for me,” the World No. 2 Nadal said, remarking about his longtime rivalry with Djokovic. Sunday was their 16th time facing each other in a major and the third time in a French Open final. “That’s part of the game.”

Through each of his seven victories this fortnight en route to lifting the Coupe de Mousquetaires, the 34-year-old Spanish native from Manacor, Mallorca did not drop a set. He saved his best for last at Roland Garros with friends and family among the 1,000 spectators who were permitted inside Court Phillipe-Chatrier to witness the championship final.

Nadal’s triumph was his 100th at Roland Garros dating back to his 2005 debut when he won the first of his 13 French Open crowns at age 19. He’s a remarkable 100-2 lifetime at Roland Garros.

Whether it was striking down-the-line ground strokes for winners or hustling after drop shots or keeping his unforced errors in check – something Nadal did a fantastic job in all of the aforementioned areas of his game – the King of Clay did something few expected. He shutout Djokovic in the first set. The 2016 French Open champion Djokovic, now 33, became bewildered and never really recovered. Imagine being the No. 1 player in the world and not being able to do anything to change the outcome. Djokovic, whose win-loss record this year fell to a still very impressive 37-2, hit 38 winners and committed 52 unforced errors.

Nadal finished the championship match with 31 winners against just 14 unforced errors – only two of them coming in the extraordinary opening set. He broke Djokovic seven times in 18 tries, won 67 percent (37 of 55) of his first-serve points, was broken just once, and outpointed his longtime foe 106-77. Nadal put a coda on Roland Garros title No. 13 by serving a perfect ace on championship point. Looking back at it all, talk about a career-defining performance by Nadal.

Indeed, all of the statistical analytics pointed favorably in Nadal’s direction in this 56th installment of the storied Nadal-Djokovic rivalry. Although Djokovic still leads the overall head-to-head 29-27 and had beaten Nadal in their last three Grand Slam matches prior to Sunday, Nadal increased his lead on clay to 18-7 and he’s 7-1 against the Belgrade, Serbia native at Roland Garros. Nadal simply was not to be denied on this autumn Paris day – closed roof or not, heavy balls or not.

“Sorry for today,” Nadal said to Djokovic during the trophy ceremony, much of his face covered in a mask. “In Australia he killed me. It’s clear today was for me. That’s part of the game. We’ve played plenty of times together.”

During his victory speech, Nadal said, “Everybody knows this court is the most important court in my tennis career.” Then, he got somber for a moment.

“We are under very tough circumstances. In some ways it’s not that happy because we can’t celebrate the tournament in a normal way. …

“I really hope that in a couple of months when we will be back here, hopefully in June, we will be able to celebrate this amazing, new beautiful stadium with a full crowd,” Nadal said.

When it was Djokovic’s turn to address the crowd, all sitting in the lower tier of Chatrier, he said: “Today, you showed why you are the king of clay. I experienced it in my own skin. It was a very tough match. I’m obviously not so pleased with the way I played, but I was definitely overplayed by a better player today.”

Later, in his video news conference, Djokovic said he was “completely overplayed by Rafa, by [the] better player on the court.

“I mean, he was not missing at all and getting every ball back, just playing tactically great. … He did surprise me with the way he was playing, the quality of tennis he was producing, the level. I mean, he’s phenomenal. He played a perfect match, especially in the first two sets.”

Soon, after Nadal’s record-tying 20th major title achievement was complete, Federer posted a congratulatory message 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.”

Nadal addressed Federer’s message during his post-match videoconference with media. He said: “I think, as everybody know, we have a very, very good relationship. We respect each other a lot. At the same time in some way, I think he’s happy when I’m winning and I’m happy when he’s doing the things well.”

Hall of Famer Rod Laver; Jelena Djokovic, Novak’s wife; and Simona Halep were among many who congratulated Nadal on his achievements via social media.

How did Nadal rate his performance and did winning No. 13 have any special meaning to him? He said: “I played at an amazing level of tennis. For two sets and a half, I played great. I can’t say another thing. [It] is impossible to have this score against him without playing great. …

“I played at my highest level when I needed to play at my highest level, so something I am very proud. …

“I just tried to work every day with the right determination, looking for my goals. Yeah, I think [this] is one of the Roland Garros that have a better personal value for myself.”

As the old saying goes, records in sports are made to be broken – and it’s true. However, it’s also true that it won’t be anytime soon that anyone will break Nadal’s record for most singles titles at Roland Garros.

Babos-Mladenovic repeat French Open doubles success

No. 2 seeds Timea Babos of Hungary and Kristina Mladenovic from France successfully defended their French Open women’s doubles title. Sunday afternoon with the roof open on Court Philippe-Chatrier, Babos and Mladenovic defeated No. 14 seeds Alexa Guarachi of Chile and Desirae Krawczyk from the United States, 6-4, 7-5, in one hour and 33 minutes.

The triumph for Babos and Mladenovic was their second Grand Slam in 2020 after winning the Australian Open and it was their four major title as a team. Meanwhile, Guarachi and Krawczyk were appearing in their first Grand Slam final after having already beaten No. 1 seeds Hsieh Su-Wei of Taiwan and Barbora Strycova from the Czech Republic, and No. 7 seeds Shuko Aoyama and Ena Shibahara, both from Japan.

“I’m really, really happy after the US Open to take the title here,” said Babos. “It’s somehow very, very special. I always say it’s special, but this, it’s different. It’s like a weird feeling. It’s even hard to describe.

“It’s definitely a relief. I’m always honest. I think this was the worst match we played in a very long time. I think we need again a little bit of time to really understand what happened. …. So voila! It’s a good way to finish.”

Said Mladenovic: “I would like to give a shout out to Timi for really like carrying the team out there today. I rarely saw myself being that exhausted mentally and physically, especially on the Grand Slam final today, and she played a big part of our win today. I gave it everything the last two weeks during the rest of our matches.”

Babos and Mladenovic edged Guarachi and Krawczyk on total points 80-71 and led in most other statistical areas, too. By winning, they became the first doubles team to win two majors in the same season since Barbora Krejcikova and Katerina Siniakova, both of the Czech Republic, won the French Open and Wimbledon in back-to-back order in 2018. They are also the first team to win the Australian Open-French Open combo since Bethanie Mattek-Sands of the United States and Lucie Safarova from the Czech Republic accomplished the feat in both 2015 and 2017.

Photoshoot: Swiatek gets to finally enjoy Paris

Besides lifting the Coupe Suzanne-Lenglen during the trophy ceremony, part of the tradition of winning the French Open women’s singles title is a day-after photoshoot with the trophy in Paris. On Sunday, Iga Swiatek, the newest Roland Garros women’s champion, got to emerge from the players’ bubble to take part in the traditional champion’s photoshoot. And the 19-year-old from Poland she got to get glammed up for the occasion, too.

A smiling Swiatek, attired in a multi-colored ankle-length dress, posed with the Coupe Suzanne-Lenglen at the Galarias La Fayette with the Eiffel Tower in the background.

Meanwhile, Swiatek has received many congratulatory wishes from a who’s-who of tennis, including Billie Jean King, Chris Evert and Kim Clijsters – and she took the time to congratulate Rafael Nadal on his 13th French Open victory Sunday evening.

By the numbers

Now it can be told

Kristina Mladenovic on the joy and relief of being a part of the winning doubles team: “To lift here the trophy … it’s always special, but this time you cannot imagine like what relief and what pride it is to actually, even for me personally, to leave this tournament with such as reward that I cannot – I still have to, like, wake up and believe it’s actually true.”

Sofia Kenin on the agony of losing a Grand Slam final: “I wish I would have won, but I’m just so happy that I got to where I am now. I guess, as some people said in Rome, lost bagel, let’s just like that, and then I’m able to get to the finals. I think it’s a good result for me. 

“Of course, I’m quite disappointed I didn’t get the title, but overall I’m going to take the positives.”

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