Rafael Nadal’s unprecedented feat at Roland Garros -- 13 titles and counting -- will, probably, never be surpassed. In history, the Spaniard’s straight sets victory over Novak Djokovic in the final on Sunday (October 11) will forever be associated with some landmark numbers as well. Nadal did not drop a single set in his imperious march to the title this year. The 6-0, 6-2, 7-5 win over Djokovic was his 100th at the French Open. In doing so he equalled rival Roger Federer’s record Grand Slam singles title haul of 20.
It is intriguing to note how even now we try to quantify feats, or moments in history with numbers, stats, titles won, battles lost. The pandemic and the rip in the fabric of the world's normals were supposed to make us turn to a less analytic, and more philosophical understanding of life and its nuances. Numbers still matter. The reach of the pandemic is numerical. Its effects on our life are measured in numbers too.
However, Nadal does not want to define his relationship with Roland Garros by mere numbers. He gave us a glimpse of what it means. A sneak peek after he made short work of the World No. 1 in two hours and 42 minutes.
“A very tough year. Win here means everything to me. It’s not the moment, honestly for me I don’t think today about the 20th, equal Roger on this great number (sic),” he said after lifting the trophy. “For me, today is just a Roland Garros victory. Roland Garros means everything to me. I spent here most of the important moments of my tennis career.”
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Nadal acknowledged Djokovic, talking about how tough a competitor the Serb has been for him over the years. On the French clay, it’s a different story though. It’s like an aberration in the tennis time-space continuum which tilts odds, laws of physics and the game in the favour of the left-handed Spaniard. Nadal apologised to Djokovic for that aberration. For the drubbing. It was an honest apology, not reeking of any form or taunt.
“Congrats to Novak for another great tournament. Sorry for today, you know. In Australia he killed me a couple of years ago. Today was for me, that’s part of the game. We’ve played plenty of times together: one day wins one, another day wins the other. So just all the best for the future, Novak,” he added.
Nadal strolled into the court and the match like a king indeed, regally taking control of proceedings and destiny.
The narrative was set in the opening game. Djokovic was broken. The Serb was broken again. In a little over half an hour, the opening set was sealed by Nadal, while Djokovic looked clueless as to what hit him in that 6-0 humbling. Clueless not because of the numbers, but because each point in that first set was worth its own eulogy. How Djokovic had not won a game in that set will forever be questioned. The Serb knew what hit him — it was a Rafaelstorm — just that he was yet to find any answer for it. The second set went in figuring out the speed of the storm. It was a blur too. 6-2.
Djokovic was visibly a step slower than Nadal. That’s a recipe for failure at this level against any player. With Nadal, it becomes a recipe for some serious thrashing. Perhaps the testing semifinal match had done the damage. Nadal, of course was flawless — he had to be against a man he hadn’t beaten in a Grand Slam match in six years — to the extent that he only committed 14 unforced errors through the match. Djokovic, in contrast, was playing an IPL game. How could someone get back from there? More so when he was visibly slow in reacting to the scorching Nadal strokes.
A comeback or a semblance of it, arrived in the third set though — a mild show of resistance by Djokovic. However, it was too little too late. Nadal had already booked a date with history and the record books.
Djokovic spoke about that sense of inevitability.
“Today you showed why you’re king of the clay [laughing]. I have experienced it on my own skin,” he said during the victory ceremony. “ It was a very tough match for me today, obviously I’m not so pleased with the way I played but I was definitely overplayed by a better player today on the court”.
The match started with a light shower. The conditions had, briefly, raised some hope that Djokovic would have an advantage as moisture would negate top spin as well as the height in Nadal’s ground strokes. There was, however, no spin in the narrative. Nadal ensured that.
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