Record-equalling Rafa eyes next challenge

  • Matt Trollope

While Rafael Nadal was squarely focused on enjoying victory at Roland Garros 2020, he was nevertheless aware of the greater implications of his latest Grand Slam triumph – and what might lie ahead.

Nadal dismantled Novak Djokovic 6-0 6-2 7-5 in Sunday’s French final in one of the finest displays of his career, earning an incredible 13th Roland Garros crown.

However, the figure most others wished to focus on was 20, the number of major singles titles Nadal now owns which equals the men’s record set by long-time rival and friend Roger Federer.

ROLAND GARROS DAY 15: Nadal beats Djokovic for 20th major title

Having never before led in the Grand Slam title race, Nadal will be playing for men’s tennis history when Australian Open 2021 rolls around in three months’ time.

The 34-year-old Spaniard said on Court Philippe Chatrier that “I don't think today about the 20th” and that instead “today is just a Roland Garros victory”.

But then Federer posted on his social media channels a message for Nadal, part of which read: “It is a true honour for me to congratulate him on his 20th Grand Slam victory. I hope 20 is just another step on the continuing journey for both of us.”

And so Nadal was somewhat forced to acknowledge his incredible accomplishment.

“I would love to finish my career being the player with more Grand Slams. No doubt about that, no?” he said during his post-match press conference.

“(I) just try to follow my road, try my best every single day. In terms of these records, of course that I care. I am a big fan of the history of sport in general. I respect a lot that. For me means a lot to share this number with Roger, no?

“But let's see what's going on when we finish our careers. We keep playing. I don't know what can happen in the future.”

Indeed, in a year during which the entire world has been significantly impacted by the coronavirus pandemic, and the professional tennis tours suspended for five months, what lies ahead remains uncertain.

Nadal is unsure how the rest of his 2020 season will take shape, and is yet to commit to playing the ATP Finals, scheduled for London’s O2 Arena in mid November.

It did seem, however, that he was already factoring AO 2021 into his planning.

“In terms of Australia, 14 days of quarantine before the tournament start. Is the moment to be smart and make the right decisions in every single moment,” he said.

“Now and before this match, I was thinking about Roland Garros. Doesn't matter what's going on later. Probably after tomorrow we going to start thinking about what's the best possible calendar for me.”

“I would love to finish my career being the player with more Grand Slams. No doubt about that, no?”
Rafael Nadal

Melbourne Park has not been the happiest of hunting grounds for Nadal who, since winning his one and only Australian Open title in 2009, has fallen in four subsequent finals.

Motivation will not be in short supply as he targets a much-desired second Australian crown, which would push his career major tally to a place that sees him stand alone in the men’s game.

He is already unsurpassed at Roland Garros where, despite not being helped by any of this year’s myriad different conditions in Paris, he was nonetheless able to rip through the field without losing a set.

“I played at my highest level when I needed to play at my highest level, so something I am very proud,” he revealed.

Rafael Nadal celebrates his 13th title at Roland Garros, with his victory over Novak Djokovic in the final improving his win-loss record at the event to 100-2. (Getty Images)

“I just tried to work every day with the right determination, looking for my goals. I think is one of the Roland Garros that have a better personal value for myself.

“One month and a half ago if you tell me you're going to have this trophy with you again, I will say: This year will probably be too difficult. 

“In the sport, the life change quick.”