Nadal’s Roland Garros Triumph More Coronation Than Battle

Rafael Nadal (photo: @rolandgarros/Twitter)

WASHINGTON, October 13, 2020 (by Michael Dickens)

With his record-extending 13th Roland Garros title victory, Rafael Nadal now has as many Grand Slam titles as Roger Federer. Each has won 20. In lifting the Coupe de Mousquetaires once again, Nadal’s latest French Open triumph was more coronation than battle.

Nadal won this year’s French Open final in Paris on Sunday, 6-0, 6-2, 7-5, in gob-smacking fashion over his long-time rival Novak Djokovic. It was the culmination of a Roland Garros that was delayed for four months by the coronavirus pandemic. Watching Nadal celebrate each Roland Garros victory, it seems, brings out something new and different in his character and personality. This time, there was plenty of gusto, plenty of arm pumping and for something completely different, there was even, as one American sportswriter characterized the moment, “laughing into his shirt like a giddy first-time winner.” 

Of the many marvelous statistics that Nadal’s victory produced, one that stands out is this one: This was the fourth time (after 2008, 2010 and 2017) that Nadal won Roland Garros without dropping a set. That is sustained excellence, folks.

During the trophy ceremony, the always polite and gracious Nadal said all the right things in thanking the French tennis federation for their tireless effort to pull off this year’s French Open under the circumstances of a global pandemic. And, what else could Djokovic do but simply say: “He was the far better player on the court today an absolutely deserved to win. …

“Of course, defeats like this are never really enjoyable, but in the greatest of defeats you hear the greatest lessons as a tennis player, but as a person as well.”

Later, as Nadal spoke with the tennis media virtually, he emphasized that while he would love nothing better than to finish his storied career surpassing Federer for most Grand Slam titles, it’s not the most important thing – and, certainly, it will not define his career.

“I’m not going to be thinking all the time Novak have this one, Roger is winning the other one,” Nadal said. “You can’t be always unhappy because your neighbor have a bigger house than you or a bigger boat or have a better phone. You have to live your personal life, no?

“Personally, that’s the thing that I did during all my career, just try to follow my road, try my best every single day. In terms of these records, of course I care. I am a big fan of the history of sport in general. I respect a lot that. For me, means a lot to share this number with Roger, but let’s see what’s going on when we finish our careers. We keep playing. … At the same time to share this record between us, that we had an amazing rivalry for such a long time, is something in some way beautiful, I really believe.”

Throughout much of the fortnight, matches were played beneath somber, cloudy skies in stark contrast to the usual sunny and hot conditions that permeate Paris in late May and early June. Sometimes, the autumn weather required the brand-new retractable roof on Court Philippe-Chatrier to be closed like it was for the men’s final between Nadal and Djokovic, with rain in the forecast. Yet, thanks to the retractable roof, it greatly helped keep the tournament running on schedule.

Because of strict health and safety protocols brought on by Covid-19, only 1,000 masked spectators were allowed to attend Roland Garros each day, down from an original estimate of 20,000. Imagine how lucky they must have felt to see Nadal’s extraordinary performance Sunday or Iga Swiatek’s on Saturday in winning her first Grand Slam trophy.

Initially, the FFT was criticized for its unilateral decision to move this year’s French Open from May to September, but everything seemed to turn out for the best. Looking back, everyone – the players, the fans, the sponsors – seemed grateful that the show went on.

Taking stock of an autumn Roland Garros

On Sunday, before the men’s singles, final, Bernard Giudicelli, President of the French Tennis Federation (FFT), held a press conference to share closing remarks on this year’s tournament that was held in fall due to the coronavirus pandemic. Among his takeaways (as translated from French):

“Roland-Garros, in the fall, we did it. It was a daring choice. It was a necessary choice and it is a winning choice. … We could have canceled, suspended, but we did not want to give in to the easy way. 

“We wanted to quickly take the decisions that were imposed on us, because we had reflected them, because we had analyzed them in a situation whose seriousness we had measured and in a context of extreme urgency where it was necessary to save the Roland-Garros 2020 edition which, as you know, is the heart of French tennis. 

“The decision we made was based on an important essential element, because we are all sports leaders. It was just unthinkable that there would be a blank line in the tournament record as published and displayed on the premises of Roland Garros and those of the Federation.”

New rankings reflect Roland Garros successes

Now that the French Open has crowned its champions, there’s plenty of movement – and a few surprises – in the new ATP and WTA rankings released on Monday.

Significant to the new ATP rankings, there are two new members in the Top 10. At No. 8 is Diego Schwartzman of Argentina, who advanced to the Roland Garros semifinals before losing to eventual champion Rafael Nadal. Schwartzman eclipsed his previous career-high ranking of No. 11 in 2018 by reaching his first Grand Slam semifinal. He rose from No. 14 before the Paris fortnight. Of note, Schwartzman defeated World No. 3 Dominic Thiem in a memorable five-set quarterfinal thriller.

Also, at No. 10 is Andrey Rublev of Russia, up two positions from No. 12 after reaching the quarterfinal round at Roland Garros. Rublev has been a Top 20 fixture since the start of 2020 and Top 15 the past nine months. He was a finalist last month in Hamburg.

Plus, 19-year-old Jannik Sinner of Italy makes his Top 50 debut this week, up 29 places to No. 46. Sinner was a quarterfinalist at this year’s Roland Garros, winning his first three matches in straight sets. Just a month ago, he was ranked No. 81 at the Italian Open and advanced to the quarterfinals in Rome.

Meanwhile, in the new WTA rankings, Roland Garros champion Iga Swiatek of Poland, also age 19, jumped from No. 54 to No. 17 after winning her first Grand Slam title on Saturday In the Top 10, Petra Kvitova of the Czech Republic, who advanced to the semifinals before losing to Sofia Kenin, is back at No. 8, rising from No. 11. Also, Kenin rose from No. 6 to No. 4 (her previous career-best) after advancing to the French Open final.

Of significance are three breakthroughs to the Top 100 by three Roland Garros surprises: Argentina’s Nadia Podoroska, a qualifier in Paris, jumped from No. 131 to No. 48; Italian qualifier Martina Trevisan rose from No. 159 to No. 83 after reaching the quarterfinals; and former doubles No. 1 Barbora Krejcikova of the Czech Republic jumped from No. 114 to No. 85 after reaching the fourth round.

Musetti dazzles in Sardinia

Lorenzo Musetti of Italy, ranked 143rd, upset eighth seed Pablo Cuevas of Uruguay, 7-6 (4), 7-5, to move into the second round of the ATP 250 Forte Village Sardegna Open on red clay in Santa Margherita di Pula, Italy. The 64th-ranked Cuevas is the seventh Top 100 player Musetti has beaten in the past month.

“Pablo is a clay player and a really tough player with a lot of experience,” Musetti said, quoted by the ATP Tour website.“I knew from the beginning it would be really tough tennis.”

Next, the wild card Musetti will face fellow Italian Andrea Pellegrino, a qualifier ranked 292nd, who led 4-6, 7-6 (7), 3-0 when his opponent, No. 70 Stefano Travaglia of Italy, retired due to a headache.

Other Monday winners included: Seventh seed Tommy Paul of the United States beat lucky loser Andrej Martin of Slovakia, 5-7, 6-3, 7-5, after trailing 0-5 in the final set. He saved two match points en route to his win. Also, No. 67 Jiri Vesely of the Czech Republic advanced over No. 105 Kamil Majchrzak of Poland, 6-1, 7-5.

Murray among four new players elected to ATP Player Council

On Monday, the ATP announced that four new players – Andy Murray, Felix Auger-Aliassime, Jeremy Chardy and John Millman – have been elected to the ATP Player Council. Each was elected by the existing members of the ATP Player Council to fill the roles that were vacated following the resignations of Novak Djokovic, John Isner, Vasek Pospisil and Sam Querrey in August prior to the US Open. The new council members begin immediately.

What they’re writing 

• In “Rafael Nadal’s French Open Victory Over Novak Djokovic Extends Tennis’s Best Rivalry,The New Yorker author Gerald Marzorati notes that “great rivalries don’t always yield great matches, and Sunday’s contest between Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal was lopsided.”

• In his 50 Parting Thoughts from Paris, written for Sports Illustrated, Jon Wertheim notes:

“Overall, a protracted round of applause for the quality of play – and, by extension, the athletes’ collective professionalism. Both here and at the U.S. Open, you would have never known the players were returning from an unexpected – and existentially stressful – six-month hiatus. The only rust was the color of the courts.”