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French Open: Rafael Nadal, Modest Warrior With Iron Will to Win

AFP

Last Updated: June 06, 2022, 08:00 IST

Spain's Rafael Nadal bites the trophy after winning the final match against Norway's Casper Ruud in three sets, 6-3, 6-3, 6-0, at the French Open tennis tournament in Roland Garros stadium in Paris, France, Sunday, June 5, 2022. (AP Photo/Michel Euler)

Spain's Rafael Nadal bites the trophy after winning the final match against Norway's Casper Ruud in three sets, 6-3, 6-3, 6-0, at the French Open tennis tournament in Roland Garros stadium in Paris, France, Sunday, June 5, 2022. (AP Photo/Michel Euler)

Rafael Nadal became the oldest ever champion in Paris at 36 and now has 112 match wins on the famous crushed red brick against just three defeats in 17 years

There are three certainties in life — death, taxes and Rafael Nadal winning the French Open.

The Spaniard secured a 14th title at Roland Garros with a straight-sets rout of Casper Ruud on Sunday, swelling his record-setting Grand Slam collection to 22.

Nadal, the oldest ever champion in Paris at 36, now has 112 match wins on the famous crushed red brick against just three defeats in 17 years.

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“He is a great champion, he is humble. He is the best athlete I have ever seen in any sport,” another tennis legend, John McEnroe said in January when Nadal collected the Australian Open.

However, you will never hear Nadal indulge in any similar self-praise.

Just as happy fishing or playing golf in Manacor, Nadal is ruthless on the tennis court but disarmingly humble off it.

“I have doubts every day but that’s good as it makes me work hard with more intensity,” said Nadal, whose career has been constantly under siege from knee, wrist and foot injuries.

“Life is never clear. If you have no doubts, then you are very arrogant. I am not an arrogant person.”

It is that forthright modesty which endears Nadal to his legion of fans as is his respect for opponents.

Respect

He applauds every vanquished foe off the court at every tournament.

When Alexander Zverev was forced to retire with an ankle injury in their semi-final on Friday, Nadal stayed with his tearful German rival in the medical room.

“If you are human, you have sympathy for a colleague,” he explained.

Nadal’s idiosyncrasies are just as charming to his supporters even if the time it takes him to complete his rituals can drive opponents to distraction.

His picking at the rear of his shorts and mopping of his brow, aligned with his obsessive devotion to lining up his water bottles, labels facing out, is part of the Nadal DNA.

His Grand Slam CV now boasts 14 French Opens, four US Open titles, two at Wimbledon and two at the Australian Open.

His 2008 Wimbledon final triumph over Roger Federer is widely regarded as the greatest ever final at the majors.

He has 92 career titles in total of which 63 have been on clay. As well as his 22 majors, he possesses 36 Masters.

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Gold in singles at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing was followed by doubles gold at the Rio Games in 2016. He has also led Spain to five Davis Cups.

Along with Federer and Novak Djokovic, he has comfortably passed the $100 million prize money barrier.

Tennis has been good for Nadal but he has been just as influential as a key driver of the sport’s growth.

Great champion

“I could probably tell you all the finals and who he has played and who he has beaten because I watched them all on TV,” said Ruud in the build-up to Sunday’s final.

Nadal won an under-12 regional crown at age eight and by 12 had captured Spanish and European age-group junior titles.

By 15, he had turned professional and, two years later, won his first match against Federer.

At 19, he won the 2005 French Open on his debut.

Nadal has Wimbledon crowns in 2008 and 2010, an Australian Open title in 2009 and completed the career Grand Slam in 2010 by defeating Djokovic in the US Open final, becoming the youngest in the Open era to complete the four-event career sweep.

Injuries have taken a toll throughout his career, however, costing him numerous Slam appearances, including Wimbledon and the US Open last year.

A recurrence of a chronic left foot injury which has plagued him throughout his career almost saw him miss Paris this year as well.

Such is the pain that Nadal said he’d prefer to lose Sunday’s final in exchange for a new foot.

However, he’s been here before.

After he failed to even reach a Grand Slam semi-final in 2015 and 2016 many figured his best days were behind him.

But Nadal roared into the 2017 Australian Open final, losing to Federer, then captured a 10th French Open crown in June that year, setting the stage for another title run in the Flushing Meadows fortnight at the US Open in September.

“Never underestimate a great champion. Your incredible work ethic, dedication and fighting spirit are an inspiration to me and many others around the world,” said Federer when Nadal snapped the tie for 20 Slams he shared with the Swiss and Djokovic in January.

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first published:June 06, 2022, 08:00 IST
last updated:June 06, 2022, 08:00 IST