Rafael Nadal won the French Open today in typically dominating fashion, defeating Austrian Dominic Thiem in straight sets, 6-4, 6-3, 6-2. It certainly wasn’t a thrilling match, nor did it end on a spectacular effort from Nadal, just a long return from Thiem.
— Roland-Garros (@rolandgarros) June 10, 2018
But that’s perhaps the most representative way for Nadal to win at Roland-Garros: in ruthlessly efficient fashion, leaving no doubt as to who deserved the title. The French Open has essentially become his kingdom; this is his 11th French Open win, the most any male singles player has ever won at one Grand Slam event. (Nadal also tied Margaret Court’s Australian Open record. Maybe they’ll name a stadium in France after Nadal, too.)
It’s more than just winning, though, it’s the methodical destruction of his competition. Nadal dropped just one set this year en route to the victory. Last year, he didn’t drop a set. In 2016, Nadal won his first two matches in straight sets before withdrawing due to an injury. He’s lost one set since 2015! He hasn’t been taken to five sets since the 2013 semifinals, a thriller against Novak Djokovic.
That 2016 withdrawal is one of only three times Nadal has played the French without winning. He’s 11-3, with that withdrawal and a quarterfinal loss in 2015 (another year in which he wasn’t fully healthy) the only blemishes this decade. Nadal is also only 32, which used to be old in tennis years, but for the modern game means he still likely has years left at the highest level, if he stays injury-free.
And while he’s certainly not just a one-surface specialist (he has three U.S. Open wins, two Wimbledon titles, and an Australian Open as well), it’s his clay-court dominance for which he’ll be most remembered. That, and the fact that he’s won all 17 of his Grand Slam titles in the same era as Roger Federer, who has 20. No two men have dominated the sport like they have, and they each did it while battling the other throughout.
Federer, by the way, decided to skip the entire clay court season (including the French Open), despite having won in Australia earlier this year. He seems to know there’s no real point in him using up his legs just to maybe win a set or two off of Nadal on clay. At some point, will we see other players do the same?
We’ve been unfathomably lucky to watch it unfold, and there’s a real chance that Federer’s grip on the record for most Grand Slam wins doesn’t make it more than a few years beyond his retirement, whenever that comes. Would it be so much to ask for them to meet in another Wimbledon final this year?