by Randy Walker
Ted Robinson of NBC Sports concluded Sunday’s broadcast of the French Open men’s final asking “Who is ever going to beat this guy?”
It is one of the biggest questions in tennis – and in all of sports – of Rafael Nadal of Spain at the French Open.
With tennis history hanging in the balance with seemingly every bludgeoning swing of the racquet, Nadal claimed his ninth French Open singles title – and his 14th career major title – with a physically challenging 4-6, 7-5, 6-2, 6-4 win over Novak Djokovic in the championship match at Roland Garros.
The win places Nadal into a second-place tie with Pete Sampras for the most major championships won in a career by a man with 14 – three shy of Roger Federer’s record of 17. The ninth title for Nadal in Paris extends his record for most men’s singles titles won at a single major and equals the record total amount of French titles won by a man set by Henri Cochet, who won four singles titles, three doubles titles and two mixed doubles titles in the 1920s and 1930s.
Over a 10 year period, Nadal has won 66 of 67 matches at Roland Garros. His lone loss was in the round of 16 to Robin Soderling in 2009, but Nadal rebounded to win in Paris the next five years, becoming the first man to win five straight French singles titles.
Nadal’s win also prevented Djokovic from joining an elite group of only seven men to win a career Grand Slam – claiming the Australian, French, Wimbledon and US titles in a career. Nadal’s win also prevented Djokovic from taking over his No. 1 ranking.
This year seemed as though Nadal’s French Open Achilles heel was most exposed as he entered the tournament with the worst clay-court season of his career – by his lofty standards. He lost an unprecedented three times on European clay entering Paris – as an eight-time champion in Monte Carlo in the quarterfinals to David Ferrer, for the first time in 11 years in Barcelona in the quarterfinals to Nicolas Almagro, and to Djokovic in the final of Rome. His lone European clay-court title entering Roland Garros came in Madrid, but was outplayed by Kei Nishikori of Japan before the Japanese star had to retire, trailing 2-6, 6-4, 3-0.
Nadal showed extreme emotion in the trophy presentations, crying courtside and while the Spanish national anthem was played.
“Mentally I was down the last few months….I was able to find my feelings (today),” Nadal said to John McEnroe on NBC after the final. “This year was emotional, I lost the last four times against Novak…This tournament means a lot to me.”