Humble Nadal in 7th heaven at French Open
Rafael Nadal is so unflinching, so nearly unbeatable, while
sliding and grinding and pounding his way past opponent after
opponent at the French Open. Away from the red clay, Nadal is
human, of course. Humble, even.
Nadal’s mind, generally impervious to negativity on court, was
fraught with worry for the 18 or so hours he and No. 1-ranked Novak
Djokovic were made to wait, from Sunday evening into Monday
afternoon, before continuing the fourth set of their
rain-interrupted final at Roland Garros, a match filled with
While eating dinner, while leafing through his favorite Japanese
anime comic book in his hotel room before bedtime, while getting in
a pre-match practice session, Nadal focused not on the
tantalizingly close prospect of a record seventh French Open
championship, but rather on the other possible outcome: a loss in a
fourth consecutive major final against Djokovic, who in turn would
become the first man since 1969 to collect four Grand Slam titles
in a row.
”You never know if you’re going to win another one,” Nadal
said. ”Opportunities pass … Losing a fourth in a row would have
been tough for me.”
When play was halted by showers on Sunday, the No. 2-ranked
Nadal was clinging to a lead quickly shrinking as his performance
dipped and Djokovic’s rose. It wasn’t until a few minutes before
setting foot back on Court Philippe Chatrier – his favorite arena
at his favorite tournament on his favorite surface – that Nadal set
aside his anxiety. Oh, did he. Once again the King of Clay, Nadal
overwhelmed Djokovic for the 50 minutes and nine games they played
Monday, wrapping up a 6-4, 6-3, 2-6, 7-5 victory that allowed Nadal
to earn French Open trophy No. 7, breaking a tie with Bjorn
”I don’t know if I am the best or not,” said Nadal, who won
his 11th Grand Slam title overall. ”I am not the right one to say
Djokovic, for his part, had zero doubts.
”He’s definitely (the) best player in history … on this
surface,” said Djokovic, whose 27-match Grand Slam winning streak
ended, ”and results are showing that he’s one of the best
Can’t argue with that. Since his French Open debut at age 18 in
May 2005, Nadal is 52-1 for his career at the tournament, the only
loss coming to Robin Soderling in the fourth round in 2009.
Asked to explain his success on clay, Nadal pointed not to his
uppercut of a topspin-slathered forehand, or his superior returns
of serve, but rather to his movement, his mental fortitude, and
this: ”I always was scared to lose.”
Djokovic gave Nadal reason for added concern, having beaten him
in the finals at Wimbledon in July, the U.S. Open in September, and
the Australian Open in January. Djokovic was attempting to be only
the third man to win four major tournaments in succession, joining
Don Budge in 1938, and Rod Laver in 1962 and 1969.
Alas, Djokovic ran into Nadal at Roland Garros. The same thing
happened to Roger Federer in 2006 and `07, when his Grand Slam bids
fell one win short because of losses to Nadal in the French Open
”For us, it was very important to win here now against
Djokovic, because we knew that if he won again, the fourth one,
then (Rafa) completing a Grand Slam of losses would have been
ugly,” said Toni Nadal, Rafael’s uncle and coach. ”And we were
very close to doing that.”
Instead, his nephew gained ground on Federer’s record of 16
Grand Slam titles, tying Borg and Laver for fourth place.
Borg walked away from the sport at age 25 after losing the 1981
Wimbledon and U.S. Open finals to John McEnroe.
”If Borg had kept playing until he was 30, he might have won 10
French Opens – something Nadal could wind up doing if he keeps
playing,” said Corrado Barazzutti, a top-10 player in the 1970s
who lost all 10 career matches against the Swede.
”Borg was a player who, particularly on red clay, was
unbeatable, in my opinion. Facing him on a court was like being
trapped in a tunnel. It was dark. You couldn’t move,” Barazzutti
said. ”That must be what it’s like to play Nadal.”
Even a passing shower that the players waited out on the
sideline didn’t slow Nadal on this afternoon. He’s from the island
of Mallorca, and loves to spend his rare downtime playing golf or
hanging out at the beach or fishing.
Nadal dropped to his knees on winning and covered his face,
thick strips of white tape covering the knuckles and fingertips of
his racket-wielding left hand. He rose, chucked his racket, and
clambered into the stands for a group hug with his father and
various members of his entourage. Then he leaped into Toni’s arms,
spilling his uncle’s bottle of water.
”When you lose, it’s because you don’t deserve the title,”
Nadal said. ”So in my mind, this was the final I had to win.
That’s why I was so emotional.”
Nearly two hours later, Nadal and more than a dozen others
gathered on the court for a photo session of the sort you might see
at a wedding. First, everyone stood together for a picture, Nadal
cradling the trophy. Then came various two-person poses: Rafa with
Dad; Rafa with Uncle Toni; Rafa with his buddy Pau Gasol of the Los
Might seem a tad over-the-top for a guy who’s done this so many
Then again, you only win your seventh French Open trophy
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