French Open organisers say expect a new era at Roland Garros from next year with all main four courts to be lit and the main stadium retractable roof finally in operation. Still, no one should expect a winner other than Rafael Nadal.
Nadal’s French Open victory on Monday morning (AEST) made him the first player to win the same grand slam 12 times, putting him ahead of Margaret Court’s 11 Australian Open victories.
Reports of Nadal’s demise have often been greatly exaggerated as the Spaniard battled injury and advancing years – he’s still only 33. After resetting mind and body to win perhaps his greatest victory, he now finds himself only two major titles behind his greatest rival 37-year-old Roger Federer.
Federer has 20 grand slam titles, but only one win on Paris clay, his 2009 victory over Robin Soderling. He lost to Nadal at Roland Garros in 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2011.
For Nadal, the French Open win came after a long battle with injuries to a laundry list of his extremities. Hip, knee, ankle and stomach complaints meant he was only able to play three events in the lead up to this year’s clay court season.
Nadal’s situation was so dire he told reporters after his Paris triumph that he had considered taking an extended break from tennis.
“I’ve had too many issues. So that makes these last few weeks very, very special,” the BBC reported.
One possibility was to stop for a while and recover my body. And the other was to drastically change my attitude and my mentality.
“I was able to change and fight for every small improvement that I was able to make.”
On court immediately after his fighting 6-3 5-7 6-1 6-1 over a dogged Dominic Thiem, Nadal harked back to where it all began.
“For me it was a dream to play here in 2005, and I could not imagine I would be back here in 2019. It’s a very special moment for me.”
But there have been many special moments on the Paris clay. Here are all 12, and who would write Nadal off for a 13th in 2020?
2005 – beat Mariano Puerta (Argentina) 6-7 (6-8) 6-3 6-1 7-5
Rallied from a set down to beat fellow left-hander Puerta and become the first player to win the French Open title in his main draw debut since Mats Wilander in 1982, setting in motion an unprecedented run of success in the tournament.
2006 – beat Roger Federer (Switzerland) 1-6 6-1 6-4 7-6
Handed Federer his first defeat in a grand slam final to become the youngest back-to-back Roland Garros winner since Bjorn Borg in 1974-75.
2007 – beat Roger Federer (Switzerland) 6-3 4-6 6-3 6-4
Federer beat Nadal for the first time on clay a few weeks earlier but there was no stopping Nadal in Paris as he became the first man since Borg in 1980 to win a hat-trick of Roland Garros titles.
2008 – beat Roger Federer (Switzerland) 6-1 6-3 6-0
Thrashed Federer in one hour and 48 minutes before apologising at the end of the match. He matched Borg’s feat of four straight titles at Roland Garros and became the first player since the Swede in 1980 to win the tournament without dropping a set.
2010 – beat Robin Soderling (Sweden) 6-4 6-2 6-4
After having his 31-match winning streak in Paris snapped by Soderling the previous year, Nadal gained sweet revenge by felling the Swede to seal a fifth title in six years.
2011 – beat Roger Federer (Switzerland) 7-5 7-6 5-7 6-1
Overcame a determined Federer again to win his sixth French Open title at the age of 25 and equal the tally of Borg. It was the 10th grand slam title of his career.
2012 – beat Novak Djokovic (Serbia) 6-4 6-3 2-6 7-5
Went past Borg with a superb display against Djokovic in a rare Monday final that had several delays due to rain.
2013 – beat David Ferrer (Spain) 6-3 6-2 6-3
Improved his career record to 59-1 at Roland Garros by beating Ferrer in straight sets to become the first man with eight titles at the same grand slam.
2014 – beat Novak Djokovic (Serbia) 3-6 7-5 6-2 6-4
Entered Roland Garros with only one European claycourt title for the first time in 10 years but saw off Djokovic in four sets to become the first man to win five straight French Open titles.
2017 – beat Stan Wawrinka (Switzerland) 6-2 6-3 6-1
Emotional scenes as he regained his Roland Garros throne with a brutal 6-2 6-3 6-1 mauling of Swiss Wawrinka to complete ‘La Decima’. At 31, he become the oldest champion in Paris since 34-year-old Andres Gimeno in 1972.
2018 – beat Dominic Thiem (Austria) 6-4 6-3 6-2
Took his Roland Garros win-loss record to a jaw-dropping 86-2 as he captured his 17th grand slam title, swatting aside Thiem for a record-extending 11th crown in Paris.
2019 – beat Dominic Thiem 6-3 5-7 6-1 6-1
Nadal was pushed perhaps as hard as he has ever been in a final in the first two brutal sets. But Thiem, who played sensational tennis for nearly two hours, could not sustain the pace and Nadal charged away to victory.