Rafael Nadal’s victory at Roland Garros this fortnight seems simultaneously – and paradoxically – predictable and staggering.
Predictable in that a victory for the Spaniard in Paris is what we’ve come to expect; Nadal triumphed for the 14th time in 18 visits to the tournament.
He now owns a breathtaking 112-3 win-loss record at Roland Garros and is a flawless 14-0 in finals, his latest victim being Norway’s Casper Ruud on Sunday.
Apart from his destruction of Roger Federer in the 2008 decider, this was Nadal’s most dominant performance in a French final; from 3-1 down in the second set, Nadal did not lose another game, winning 11 straight.
He allowed Ruud just eight points in the third set to win 6-3 6-3 6-0.
RAFAEL NADAL IN ROLAND GARROS FINALS
|2005||Won||M. Puerta||6-7(6) 6-3 6-1 7-5|
|2006||Won||R. Federer||1-6 6-1 6-4 7-6(4)|
|2007||Won||R. Federer||6-3 4-6 6-3 6-4|
|2008||Won||R. Federer||6-1 6-3 6-0|
|2010||Won||R. Soderling||6-4 6-2 6-4|
|2011||Won||R. Federer||7-5 7-6(3) 5-7 6-1|
|2012||Won||N. Djokovic||6-4 6-3 2-6 7-5|
|2013||Won||D. Ferrer||6-3 6-2 6-3|
|2014||Won||N. Djokovic||3-6 7-5 6-2 6-4|
|2017||Won||S. Wawrinka||6-2 6-3 6-1|
|2018||Won||D. Thiem||6-4 6-3 6-2|
|2019||Won||D. Thiem||6-3 5-7 6-1 6-1|
|2020||Won||N. Djokovic||6-0 6-2 7-5|
|2022||Won||C. Ruud||6-3 6-3 6-0|
“For me have this trophy next to me again means everything, no?” he said.
“Have been emotional victories, without a doubt, unexpected in some way. Yeah, very happy.
“Have been a great two weeks, honestly, no? I played since the beginning, improving every day. Finishing playing a good final, no?
“I lived incredible emotions that going to be in my memory forever, and for me it makes sense. What I have on the foot is not worst after that, but of course gonna be my decision about what's the next step in my future.”
His reference to his foot is the staggering part of this story.
For all his well-documented success at the clay-court major, this performance and result were hardly guaranteed, given physical problems had cast doubt over his participation in the event.
Carrying a chronic foot injury that kept him off court for most of the second half of 2021, Nadal was visibly impeded just weeks earlier in a third-round loss at the Rome Masters.
He opened up about the various treatments that helped him navigate this past fortnight.
“I don't want to talk about how many injections I had, because as you can imagine, I had to take a lot of anti-inflammatories too. But before every single match I had to do a couple of injections too,” he revealed.
“I have been playing with an injections on the nerves to sleep the foot… I have no feelings on my foot, because my doctor was able to put anaesthetic injections on the nerves. But at the same time, it's a big risk in terms of less feelings, a little bit bigger risk of turning your ankle or have produce another stuff there.
“Of course Roland Garros is Roland Garros. Everybody know how much means to me this tournament, so I wanted to keep trying and to give myself a chance here.”
Nadal nevertheless managed to beat four top-10 opponents en route to his 22nd Grand Slam singles title – a record-extending achievement in the men’s game.
Greatness personified ✨ pic.twitter.com/EpJ1r7LbrZ— #AusOpen (@AustralianOpen) June 5, 2022
He now sits just one major title behind Serena Williams’ Open Era-record haul of 23.
And having already secured the Australian Open and Roland Garros titles in 2022, the legendary Spaniard will turn his attention to Wimbledon – the third leg of a potential calendar-year Grand Slam.
Yet he is not in the clear physically; Nadal explained he would now undergo a treatment involving a radio frequency injection to “burn” the problematic foot nerve, hoping to counter pain in the long term.
If that did not work, he admitted he may have to seek out a surgical option – with no guarantee it would allow him to compete again.
He was therefore only cautiously optimistic about a first appearance at the All England Club since 2019.
“I'm going to be in Wimbledon if my body is ready to be in Wimbledon. That's it. Wimbledon is not a tournament that I want to miss. I love Wimbledon,” said Nadal, who has won the Australian and French titles back-to-back for the first time in his career.
“If I am able to play with anti-inflammatories, yes; to play with anaesthetic injections, no. I don't want to put myself in that position again.
“So let's see. I am always a positive guy, and I am always expecting the things going the right way. So let's be confident, and let's be positive. Then let's see what's going on.”
While tennis observers dive into the stratospheric records and historical significance attached to Nadal’s last success at Roland Garros, the 36-year-old insists this is not a primary driving force.
Instead, in a career spanning more than 20 years, he remains motivated to simply compete, despite ongoing physical struggles.
“What drives me to keep going is the passion for the game, live moments that stays inside me forever, and play in front of the best crowds in the world and the best stadiums,” said Nadal, who enjoyed rapturous support this fortnight in Paris.
“Then of course if I don't feel myself competitive, I don't enjoy. So that's it.
“Is not about the goal about winning more titles. It's about a goal to give myself a chance to keep doing what I like to do.
“If (it doesn’t) surprise you to win 14 Roland Garros or 22 Grand Slam, is because you are super arrogant. Honestly, no, I am not this kind of guy. I never even dream about achieve the things that I achieved.
“I never considered myself that good.”
He has instead gone on to become one of the greatest players of all time.
And his latest majestic performance at Roland Garros simply confirms that.