‘King of clay’ holds court
Rafael Nadal wins his record 10th French Open and 15th Grand Slam title.
PARIS — As he sat in front of a TV to watch last year’s French Open final, sidelined by an injured left wrist, Rafael Nadal had no way to know for sure, of course, that he would return to the height of his powers.
For the second time in a row, the most important match at the most important clay-court tournament was being contested without him. As the 2017 edition at Roland Garros began, Nadal’s drought without a Grand Slam title was stretching to three full years.
“It was difficult,” Nadal’s uncle and coach, Toni, said. “We were asking ourselves whether he would be able achieve this one more time.”
Turned out he could, and he did, as masterful as at any time. Overwhelmingly good from start to finish in Sunday’s final, and for the entire two weeks, Nadal won his record 10th French Open title with a 6-2, 6-3, 6-1 victory over 2015 champion Stan Wawrinka.
“A perfect Roland Garros for me,” Nadal said. Call it a Perfect 10. “I play my best at all events, but the feeling here is impossible to describe. It’s impossible to compare it to another place,” Nadal said. “The nerves, the adrenaline, I feel on the court are impossible to compare to another feeling. This is the most important event in my career.”
Not only did Nadal win every set he played in the tournament, he dropped a total of only 35 games, the second fewest by any man on the way to any title at a major tournament with all matches being best-of-five-sets in the Open era, which dates to 1968.
“On paper, you look at the scores, it all seems fairly easy,” he said. “But it’s not.”
No other man or woman has won 10 championships at the same major in the Open era. Along with improving to 10-0 in finals at Roland Garros, Nadal increased his haul to 15 Grand Slam trophies, breaking a tie with Pete Sampras for second place in the history of men’s tennis, behind only rival Roger Federer’s 18.
It marked a stirring return to the top for Nadal at the site he loves the most: He is 79-2 at the French Open, 102-2 in all best-of-five-set matches on clay.
“He’s playing the best he’s ever played. That’s for sure,” said Wawrinka, who had won 11 matches in a row on clay. “But not only here.”
True. Nadal, 31, leads the tour with four titles and 43 match wins this season and will rise to No. 2 in the ATP rankings Monday.
Last year in Paris, Nadal withdrew before the third round, making the announcement while wearing a blue brace on his left wrist and resignation of his face. He couldn’t bring himself to watch much of the rest of the 2016 French Open, he said, other than some doubles matches involving a good pal, and the singles final.
Finally back to full strength in the offseason, he returned to work, rebuilding his forehand and redoubling his efforts to be elite.
Nadal won in his French Open debut in 2005 at age 19, won again in 2006, 2007 and 2008. After a fourth-round loss on bad knees in 2009, he grabbed five consecutive French Opens (2010-14). A quarterfinal loss in 2015 ended that run, and then came last year’s injury.
“Last year,” Nadal said, “was not an easy one.”
Wawrinka insisted a fiveset semifinal win Friday over No. 1-ranked Andy Murray did not take anything out of him physically. The problem against Nadal, Wawrinka said, was more mental.
“He puts this doubt in your head when you play against him,” said Wawrinka, who had been 3-0 in Grand Slam finals, including a victory over Nadal at the 2014 Australian Open.
AFTER pulling out of the 2016 French Open with an injury, Rafael Nadal swept Stan Wawrinka in final.