To death and taxes being life’s only two certainties can be added a third – Rafael Nadal winning the French Open.
The Spaniard secured a 13th title at Roland Garros with a crushing victory over Novak Djokovic on Sunday, equalling Roger Federer’s all-time record of 20 Grand Slams.
“Today you showed why you are the king of clay,” said Djokovic, beaten by Nadal for the third time in a Roland Garros final.
Nadal now has 100 match wins on Paris’ famous crushed red brick against just two defeats in 15 years. He had described this year’s delayed tournament as his “most difficult ever” but powered to the title without losing a set.
“There is nobody who even plays remotely close to Rafa,” Federer said after a lopsided semi-final defeat at Roland Garros in 2019.
“I don’t even know who I need to go search for to go practise with somebody who plays like him.”
However, you will never hear Nadal indulge in any similar self-praise.
Just as happy fishing or playing golf in Mallorca, Nadal is ruthless on the tennis court but disarmingly humble off it.
“I have doubts every day but that’s good as it makes me work hard with more intensity,” said Nadal, whose career has been constantly under siege from knee and wrist injuries.
“Life is never clear. If you have no doubts, then you are very arrogant. I am not an arrogant person.”
It is that forthright modesty which endears Nadal to his legion of fans as is his respect for opponents.
He applauds every vanquished foe off court at every tournament.
His idiosyncracies are just as charming to his supporters.
His picking at the rear of his shorts and mopping of his brow, aligned with his obsessive devotion to lining up his water bottles, labels facing out, are parts of the Nadal DNA.
Victory on Sunday moved Nadal level with Federer who, at 39, is more than four years older.
“It’s not about equalling Roger on 20, for me today it’s just a Roland Garros victory,” said Nadal.
“Roland Garros means everything to me. I spent most of the most important moments of my tennis career here.”
His Grand Slam CV boasts 13 French Opens, four US Open titles, two at Wimbledon and one at the Australian Open.
His 2008 Wimbledon final triumph over Federer is widely regarded as the greatest ever final at the majors.
He has 86 career titles in total of which 60 have been on clay. As well as his 20 majors, he possesses a record 35 Masters.
Along with Federer and Djokovic, the other member of tennis’ ‘Big Three’, Nadal has comfortably passed the $100 million prize money barrier.
Tennis has been good for Nadal but he has been just as influential as a key driver of the sport’s growth.
He won an under-12 regional crown at age eight and by 12 had captured Spanish and European age-group junior titles.
By 15, he had turned professional and, two years later, won his first match against Federer.
At 19, he won the 2005 French Open on his debut.
Nadal has Wimbledon crowns in 2008 and 2010, an Australian Open title in 2009 and completed the career Grand Slam in 2010 by defeating Djokovic in the US Open final, becoming the youngest in the Open era to complete the four-event career sweep.
Nadal added another US Open crown at Arthur Ashe Stadium in New York in 2013, a third in 2017 and another last year.
Only Nadal and Andre Agassi can say they have a career Grand Slam and an Olympic men’s singles gold medal, Nadal having claimed his in 2008 at Beijing.
He has also led Spain to five Davis Cups.
Knee and wrist injuries have taken a toll throughout his career, however, costing him nine Slam appearances.
After he failed to even reach a Slam semi-final in 2015 and 2016 some figured his greatest moments were behind him.
But Nadal roared into the 2017 Australian Open final, losing to Federer, then captured a record 10th French Open crown in June that year, setting the stage for another title run in the Flushing Meadows fortnight at the US Open in September.
Only Nadal, Pete Sampras and Ken Rosewall have managed the feat of winning Grand Slam titles in their teens, 20s and 30s.
“For me winning here another time, I can’t even say it is a dream. It is out of my thoughts,” said Nadal.
Leading men’s Grand Slam title winners after Rafael Nadal beat Novak Djokovic in the French Open final on Sunday:
20 – Roger Federer (SUI)
20 – Rafael Nadal (ESP)
17 – Novak Djokovic (SRB)
14 – Pete Sampras (USA)
12 – Roy Emerson (AUS)
11 – Rod Laver (AUS), Bjorn Borg (SWE)
10 – Bill Tilden (USA)
Rafael Nadal’s path to his 13th French Open title on Sunday (x denotes seeded player):
Rafael Nadal (ESP x2)
1st rd: bt Egor Gerasimov (BLR) 6-4, 6-4, 6-2
2nd rd: bt Mackenzie McDonald (USA) 6-1, 6-0, 6-3
3rd rd: bt Stefano Travaglia (ITA) 6-1, 6-4, 6-0
4th rd: bt Sebastian Korda (USA) 6-1, 6-1, 6-2
QF: bt Jannik Sinner (ITA) 7-6 (7/4), 6-4, 6-1
SF: bt Diego Schwartzman (ARG x12) 6-3, 6-3, 7-6 (7/0)
F: bt Novak Djokovic (SRB x1) 6-0, 6-2, 7-5
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