The King of Clay’s Throne Remains Intact
Nadal’s phenomenal record at Roland Garros, where he’s lost just two matches against 78 (now 79) wins, wasn’t ever under threat on Sunday. Although both Nadal and Wawrinka ran the same distance on court, the Swiss looked like he was mid-marathon just a couple of sets in, visibly sluggish after a tough five-set semi-final against Andy Murray just two days prior. Nadal, on the other hand, hadn’t dropped a single set en route to the final: Buzzing with energy as he sent Wawrinka from end to end with his massive signature forehand, he dictated play throughout the match. He continually heaped pressure on Wawrinka’s serve, earning him six breaks from a possible 13 break points—Wawrinka threatened Nadal’s serve (unsuccessfully) just once all afternoon.
The Swiss player, who is a three-time Grand Slam champion and ranked No. 3 in the world, felt what many others—including countryman Roger Federer—have been made to feel against Nadal on his favorite surface. Wawrinka’s frustration resulted in a smashed racket and 29 unforced errors compared to 12 from his bullish opponent, whose movement and timing were flawless. Nadal not only battered baseline winners as expected, he also took 18 of 20 points at the net. He capped a marvelous run in Paris having lost only 35 games all tournament (after Bjorn Borg, the second fewest in the Open era), with 27 winners. Wawrinka simply didn’t have a chance against a masterful performance on the clay by the best player to grace the surface. With Sunday’s win, Nadal has amassed a total of 15 Grand Slam singles titles, surpassing Pete Sampras and trailing only three behind Federer.
Goodbye Uncle Toni
The organizers at Roland Garros were clearly prepared for Nadal’s win, marking his decima with much celebratory nostalgia. A special stage was erected on court, massive banners were flown, and an extensive highlight reel showed Nadal falling to the ground on Court Philippe Chatrier in tears over the last 12 years, from his first win as an 18-year-old with luscious hair to his victories over Federer, Novak Djokovic, and others. The most touching part of the ceremony, though, was when Rafa’s uncle and longtime coach, Toni, presented his nephew with a commemorative trophy. Toni, who has coached Nadal since he was 3 years old and has been an ever-present sight in the player’s box over the years, announced in February that he would no longer accompany his nephew on the tour, and would focus instead on the newly set up Rafa Nadal Academy in Mallorca. This ends one of the sport’s most successful and heartwarming partnerships, with Nadal bringing the former French Open champion Carlos Moya on board as coach. Of his uncle, Nadal said in his post-match speech,“He has 10 trophies with me … without him, not one would be possible.”
What a Short, Strange Year It’s Been
It’s hard to believe that less than a year after Djokovic’s seemingly inextinguishable Grand Slam run, Murray’s rise to world No. 1 in the rankings, and Wawrinka’s late-career flourish with a U.S. Open win, the first two slams of the season have been clinched by Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. Federer’s remarkable 18th Grand Slam win at the Australian Open against Rafa, and his continuing dominance on hard courts at Indian Wells and Miami (where he again beat Nadal), coupled with Nadal’s incredible clay-court season with victories at Monte Carlo, Barcelona, Madrid, and now the French, means the tour thus far has been dominated by two of its oldest and most formidable players. It remains to be seen if the two can continue full-force through a busy summer schedule and two more slams, but fans should enjoy it while it lasts.