In 2005, a 19-year-old Rafael Nadal won his first French Open title. This past Sunday he won his 13th, defeating Novak Djokovic 6–0, 6–2, 7–5. It was Nadal’s 20th career Grand Slam title, moving him into a tie with Roger Federer for the all-time record.
Federer was quick to congratulate his rival on Instagram and Twitter.
“I have always had the utmost respect for Rafa as a person and as a champion,” he said. “As my greatest rival over many years, I believe we have pushed each other to become better players. Therefore, it is a true honor for me to congratulate him on his 20th grand slam victory.”
Nadal’s dominance on the Roland Garros clay was on full display throughout the tournament; he did not drop a single set in his seven matches. It is the fourth time Nadal has won the French Open without dropping a single set. The win over Djokovic was also Nadal’s 100th French Open victory. He has lost only twice in 16 years at the French Open.
This year’s French Open certainly had a different vibe than years past. Fan attendance was limited due to COVID-19 social distancing regulations and temperatures were much lower than usual, as the tournament is usually held in late May and early June. Many players opted to wear tights and long sleeve shirts during their matches to combat the less than desirable conditions. Days of rain also brought a dampness to the tournament, which, combined with the low temperature, made the balls much heavier and slower than usual.
“Some of those balls we were using you wouldn’t give to a dog to chew,” British player Daniel Evans said.
Although some thought the conditions would negatively affect Nadal and his signature topspin, he was unphased. Nadal smashed an unreturnable slice serve on match point to secure the victory over Djokovic.
“Well of course I played an amazing level of tennis, no?” Nadal said during his post-match press conference.
Djokovic, who sits behind Nadal and Federer with the third-most Grand Slam titles in history, was outclassed by Nadal from the opening game. The Serbian world No.1 was somewhat fatigued coming into the final after surviving a five set thriller (6–3, 6–2, 5–7, 4–6, 6–1) against Stefanos Tsitsipas in the semifinals on Friday.
“Well I don’t have much to say but that I was completely overplayed by Rafa, the better player on the court,” Djokovic said in a press conference after the final. “He played a perfect match, especially in the first two sets.”
Andy Murray, the three-time Grand Slam winner from the United Kingdom, also praised Nadal and his unprecedented success at the French Open before an ATP event in Germany.
“I don’t think what he has done at Roland-Garros will ever be beaten,” Murray said in an interview. “I think it’s one of the best records in sport, maybe the best. I don’t think it will ever be repeated and I actually don’t think anyone will get close to it.”
It’s fair to say that the last two decades have been the golden era of men’s professional tennis. Federer turned professional in 1998, Nadal in 2001 and Djokovic in 2003. The three have dominated the game ever since and still show no major signs of slowing down. The race for the all-time Grand Slams record will surely be exciting to watch as the three stars enter the twilight of their careers. They’ll get their next chance to rewrite the record books at the Australian Open in January 2021.