Paris (AP) – When the Spanish national anthem was played, Rafael Nadal got wet eyes. With an incredible show of force, the king of clay courts had won the French Open for the 13th time a few moments earlier.
“To win here again is more than a dream. It is something that I would not even have imagined in my wildest dreams,” said Nadal after his 100th individual victory in Paris. The 34-year-old Spaniard prevailed against world number one Novak Djokovic in an amazing final 6: 0, 6: 2, 7: 5. “Sorry for today,” said Nadal on the pitch after he had equalized the record of his long-time rival Roger Federer with the 20th Grand Slam title.
He initially downplayed the importance of the Federer Record. “I don’t think about that today. For me the most important thing is the Roland Garros victory. This is where I experienced the most important moments of my career, this tournament has inspired me,” he said after his 999th victory on the tour and his 60th. Title on ashes.
“I’ve never seen Rafael Nadal play better tennis on clay,” enthused Boris Becker at Eurosport. Basketball legend Dirk Nowitzki and national soccer player Toni Kroos also paid homage to Nadal on social networks. Even his defeated opponent had to recognize the extra class. “What you are doing on this court is unbelievable. Everyone knows why you are called the king of the clay court,” said Djokovic after a “very tough match for me”. “He deserves all the superlatives that can be used here,” Djokovic later summed up at the press conference.
In fact, the level of the superlative finale met all expectations – of course not in terms of the final result. What the two final protagonists presented in the first half hour was a clay court spectacle par excellence. The first game lasted six minutes, then Nadal had taken the first serve from his opponent. After 41 minutes it was 5-0 for Nadal – even though Djokovic didn’t even play badly.
But the performance of the left-hander from Mallorca was described as “phenomenal”, an understatement. One day after the title wins of the German doubles Kevin Krawietz and Andreas Mies and the Polish Iga Swiatek in the women’s singles, Nadal used the set ball to 6-0 after 45 minutes under the roof over the Court Philippe Chatrier, which was closed due to rain.
In the seemingly endless history of their duels, which began in the quarter-finals of the French Open in 2006 and saw their 56th edition on Sunday afternoon, it was only the second time that one of the two rivals won a set 6-0 against the other. In 2019 Nadal achieved this in the final in Rome with his 6-0, 4: 6, 6: 1.
There has been no other match in the history of professional tennis as often as the comparison between Djokovic and Nadal. This year this meant: number one against number two, the best of the year against the Roland Garros regent, the 17-time Grand Slam champion against the 19-time major winner. At the start of the second round, the Serb finally made his first point.
Before the summit, Djokovic called it the “greatest challenge in sport” to beat Nadal at the French Open. His balance read before the final really scary: Nadal has won the French Open twelve times and won 99 matches here. He appeared with this self-confidence and this self-assurance.
He made the first break to 2-1 in round two, Nadal just continued and made Djokovic look almost pitiful in between. Round one lasted 48 minutes, round two 47 minutes – and the score was 6-0, 6-2. Nadal disappeared into the locker room for a brief moment, but it didn’t hurt his concentration at first.
Nadal had flown through the previous tournament without losing a set, Djokovic gave up a set in the quarterfinals and had to go the full distance in the semifinals against the Greek Stefanos Tsitispas. However, his annual balance before Paris was just as impressive as his opponent’s French Open statistics. Djokovic had won every match he played to the end in this season, which was long interrupted due to the coronavirus pandemic.
At the ATP Cup, the Australian Open, in Dubai, the Cincinnati Masters and the Rome Masters, Djokovic has not lost a single time. Only at the US Open he was thrown out in the round of 16 because he knocked a ball away and hit a line judge and was disqualified. In the third set Djokovic had to accept another service loss to make it 2: 3, but this time he countered with his first break to 3: 3. With rowing arm movements, he animated the audience (and himself) and again offered resistance.
He kept the set open until 5: 5, but then a double fault gave Nadal the break to 6: 5. Against this Nadal on that day, Djokovic’s increase in performance was no longer enough.