Rafael Nadal, His brilliance undimmed by the Years, Wins His 10th French Open

Posted On Monday, 12 June 2017 05:10

Rafael-nadalGrowing up as a prodigy on the Spanish island of Majorca, Rafael Nadal dreamed of winning just one French Open title.

Now he has 10.

Nadal has always been a modest superstar, avoiding public displays of entitlement with the same assiduity that he employs arranging the beverage bottles on the court in front of his chair. But there could be no avoiding the encomiums or the obvious on Sunday as Nadal, after a nervous start, crushed the suspense out of another French Open final against a strong opponent, routing Stan Wawrinka, 6 - 2, 6 - 3, 6 - 1, in 2 hours 5 minutes.

“Rafa, this is one of the most beautiful exploits in the history of a sport,” Fabrice Santoro, the former French star turned French Open interviewer, said as he approached Nadal on the court just after his quest for a 10th title — La Décima, in his native Spanish — became a reality.

It is no doubt a sporting achievement for the ages: No other men’s tennis player has won more than seven singles titles at the same Grand Slam event. And it is also surely time for a new favorite number for Nadal.

Once a very promising soccer player, Nadal has long favored the No. 9, traditionally worn by strikers. But the No. 10 is what has kept bringing him joy and fulfillment this spring. He won a record 10th singles title on the clay in Monte Carlo and again in Barcelona.

That he managed it in Paris, too, came as a surprise to no one, certainly not the tournament organizers. After Nadal’s victory, they unfurled a No. 10 banner in the stands high above Court Philippe Chatrier and had a No. 10 painted on the podium. Also at the ready was a highlight video that showed all 10 of his championship points dating to 2005.

“In 2005, I thought in 2017 I’d be fishing on my boat in Majorca,” Nadal said. “Back then, of course, I couldn’t think even for a second that this would ever happen to me.”

“I try my best in all events — that’s the real thing. But the feeling I have here is impossible to describe and difficult to compare to another place. For me, the nerves, the adrenaline that I feel when I play in this court is impossible to compare to another feeling. Just for me, it’s the most important event in my career, without a doubt.”

This was arguably Nadal’s most dominant performance at Roland Garros. It was the third time he won the event without dropping a set, but he lost only 35 games this time — the second fewest by an Open - era men’s champion at a Grand Slam event in which all the matches were best - of - five sets. Bjorn Borg, the poker - faced Swede who was the best men’s player on clay until Nadal’s ascent, dropped only 32 games en route to the 1978 French Open title.

Sunday’s victory also ended a three-year drought of major titles for Nadal, who won his ninth French Open in 2014 but was then superseded by Novak Djokovic while being slowed both by injuries and by dents to his confidence. Last year, he withdrew from Roland Garros after two rounds because of an inflamed tendon sheath in his left wrist.

That explains, in part, the tears that he shed in his chair after match point on Sunday.

“This tournament is the most important of the year for me, and as you can imagine, when I get here, there are nerves and emotions and the tension is big,” Nadal said. “Also, I know that I have fewer years left to succeed here.”

This season he has undeniably returned to the fore, dropping weight and recovering all the sting in his fearsome forehand, although there is much more to this resurgence than that signature shot. Nadal’s serve was a strength on Sunday, when he faced — and saved — just one break point. His two - handed backhand was decisive, too. He finished with 27 winners and just 12 unforced errors.

Wawrinka, a powerful 32 - year - old from Switzerland, simply could not keep up, cracking first in rally after rally.

He had won all three of his previous Grand Slam singles finals. He beat Nadal in the 2014 Australian Open and Djokovic in the 2015 French Open and the 2016 United States Open. But defeating a healthy, confident Nadal on the Terre battue of Paris is still one of the sport’s greatest challenges.

Nadal is 31. A lesser competitor might have lost his edge long ago, but Nadal is still sliding after drop shots and throwing his body into topspin forehands with the gusto of a younger player.

New source: nytimes.com

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