Growing up as a prodigy in Mallorca, Spain, Rafael Nadal dreamed of playing tennis. He dreamed of winning just one French Open title. Yesterday, he won his 12th, the La Duodecima.
No other player has won more than 8 Grand Slams at the same major in the Open era. Nadal has now won 12 French Opens alone. Along with improving to 12-0 in finals at the French Open, Nadal has increased his haul to 18 Grand Slam trophies, behind only his great nemesis Roger Federer’s 20.
In 2016, Nadal sat in front of a TV to watch the French Open final. Sidelined due to an injured left wrist, Nadal did not know whether he’d return to the height of his powers. For the second year in a row, the French Open final was being contested without him. As the 2017 edition of Roland Garros began, Nadal’s drought of a Grand Slam title was close to three years.
Critics began questioning whether the great Spanish had it in him to win another major or not. Turns out he did. Not only did he win the French Open 2017 in spectacular fashion, winning the tournament without dropping a set, but he also went on to win the 2017 US Open and the French Open the following year, his 11th, the La Undecima.
Nadal has always been a very humble superstar, avoiding displays of liberty with the same diligence that he uses in arranging the beverage bottles in front of his chair. But there could be no avoiding the obvious on Sunday as Nadal crushed the suspense out of yet another French Open final, routing Dominic Thiem 6-3, 5-7, 6-1, 6-1 in 4 sets.
Nadal has dominated the French Open in a way no one could have ever imagined. It’s virtually impossible to measure his greatness on the clay because quite frankly, there’s been nothing like it. Federer has won 8 Wimbledon’s at Grass and he might well be the greatest player of all time. But if it ever came down to who was better between Federer at grass and Nadal at clay, Nadal would take this one – hands down. His style of play blends perfectly with what it takes to win at Roland Garros, which has ultimately created a perfect storm 12 times over the past 15 years.
What makes Nadal’s 12 titles in Paris all the more remarkable is the fact that he’s had to battle out Federer and Djokovic over the years, who are good on clay and had it not been for Nadal, they would have surely had more than 1 French Open apiece.
There was a time from 2014 to 2017 when over these three years, people wondered whether Nadal, whose success at Roland Garros was among the most certain things in sports, might be done winning Grand Slams. But the greats are always contenders, no matter what the state of their game is.
Nadal’s great nemesis, Roger Federer won the 2017 Australian Open, his first Grand Slam in over 5 years and that culminated in a remarkable resurgence for him which saw him win 3 out of the next 6 Grand Slams. It was figured that Nadal could use that old clay court memory to hold the French Open trophy again. He did so remarkably, winning the next 3 French Opens consecutively.
But to do it like this? To produce some of his best tennis at the twilight of his career at 33? It makes La Undecima and La Duodecima all the more majestic. Rather than a farewell, this feels like a renaissance.