Five thoughts on Rafael Nadal’s victory over Novak Djokovic in the French Open final.
Can Rafael Nadal win 10 French Opens? In any normal circumstances, a match which ended with a double fault, which was played in drizzle, and was completed in front of a fair few empty seats, would be considered something of an anti-climax. But these weren’t normal circumstances. An emotional Nadal was still in his uncle Toni’s arms, celebrating a seventh title at Roland Garros which took him beyond Bjorn Borg’s six, and thoughts had already turned to how many more French Opens the Majorcan can win. It is not ludicrous to imagine that Nadal, who turned 26 during the tournament, can make it into double figures. No tennis player had previously dominated a tournament the way that Nadal dominates the scorched, soggy earth of Court Philippe Chatrier.
You could say that Nadal has never been pushed harder at Roland Garros than he was by Novak Djokovic, and that the Serbian, who was appearing in his first French Open final, will be an even greater threat when the tennis world gathers in south-west Paris again next year. Perhaps, but Nadal still won in four sets. Only once in eight visits to Roland Garros has Nadal lost a match – to Robin Soderling in the fourth round of the 2009 tournament – and that was when he was concerned about his parents’ marriage and his own extremely cranky knees. “Rafa is just 26 – he has a lot of runway left,” said Jim Courier.
Can Nadal break Roger Federer’s record for grand slam titles? This was Nadal’s eleventh slam, putting him level with Borg and Rod Laver on the all-time list. Now he only trails Roy Emerson on 12, Pete Sampras on 14 and Federer on 16. If Nadal can win, say, three more French Opens (see above), that would take him to 14. He will also make opportunities for himself at the other three majors. While Federer is still going, and you could see the Swiss extending his collection to 17 or perhaps 18, you have to consider the possibility that Nadal will retire as the most successful male player in history.
Nadal has probably never been as emotional after winning a grand slam as he was after beating Djokovic. Has he ever been as agitated during a grand slam final as he was in Paris? On Sunday evening he had made it clear that he wasn’t happy with playing with the heavy, sodden tennis balls. On Monday afternoon, the players stayed on court during a rain delay, and Nadal, sitting under an umbrella, was thinking only of the Babolats: “Save the balls.” The tension was released with Djokovic’s double-fault. Nadal, who had lost the previous three slam finals to Djokovic, was a champion again. There were tears from Rafa Nadal, tears from Toni, tears from everyone in his guests-box.
This generation’s chances of emulating Rod Laver, by holding all four slams at the same time, died with that double-fault. Djokovic had staved off four match points in his quarter-final against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, a round after coming from two sets down against Andreas Seppi, but this time there was no escape. Things didn’t work out for Djokovic on day two of the final. Just minutes into the resumption, he was bashing the side of his head with his racket, and he had lost his serve after Nadal’s net-cord on break-point. Then, when facing a first match point, he fired long with his second serve. So Djokovic has tried and failed to equal Laver. Just as Federer failed and Nadal failed. You now have to wonder whether anyone of this era is going to go around the grand slam block. Two more sets and Djokovic would have achieved the greatest comeback of all time, he would have completed the career slam, and he would accomplished the near-mythical feat of holding all four titles. Against anyone other than Nadal, it would have happened for him.
There’s only a very slim chance of a fourth consecutive Monday finish to a grand slam. This was the third slam in a row to be completed on a Monday, since last year’s US Open final was held over because of rain, and this season’s Australian Open final took so long – almost six hours – that Sunday had turned into Monday by the time they were done. Nadal and Djokovic take their time between points, but, with a roof on Wimbledon’s Centre Court, they would have to play for a good 10 hours if they are to take this summer’s Championships into a third week.