At Roland Garros, Rafael Nadal extends his reign to infinity

With his 13th record title Sunday 11 October against Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal equaled Switzerland's Roger Federer and his 20 Grand Slam titles.

Neither an invisible enemy whose specter will have upset this autumn edition. Nor the cold. Nor the rain. Nor the new official ammunition, unanimously considered heavier this year. Not even the only undefeated player this season – if not by himself – will have succeeded in causing the living statue to falter and shake the fortress. Even modernized, even with its roof, the Philippe-Chatrier court remains the citadel of one man and only one: Rafael Nadal. On Sunday October 11, the Spaniard gave a masterclass to Novak Djokovic, spanked 6-0, 6-2, 7-5.

Relive the Roland-Garros final: Rafael Nadal, intractable against Novak Djokovic, wins a thirteenth coronation

Since the beginning of the fortnight, we had nice glossing over this “extra-ordinary” edition placed under the threat of Covid-19, between a health context plaguing the atmosphere in the stands and capricious autumn climate, it had given birth to the ideal final between the two best players in the world. A 56e duel (the 9e in the Grand Slam final) between the clay king, 34, and the best player of the decade, 33 – the most successful rivalry of the Open era.

With, as a bonus, a piece of history: the Spaniard was running for a 100e victory Porte d’Auteuil (for two defeats), and above all, a 13e crowned to join Roger Federer with 20 Grand Slam titles on the clock. The Serbian was running after his 18e Major and his 2e Musketeers Cup to become the first in the Open era (and the third in history, after Australians Rod Laver and Roy Emerson) to win the four Grand Slam trophies at least twice.

A bicycle wheel, like Federer in 2008

A historic final, an unprecedented setting: for the first time in the history of the tournament, the final was played under the roof, in conditions which were not completely indoor, however, because of the side openings which let air pass.

The first set was a demonstration on the part of the owner of the place, who recited his tennis in practically all the compartments of play, except on the fly if one wants to quibble. Close to his line, particularly aggressive, he cracked Novak Djokovic in the exchange, betrayed by his first ball, broken down (42%), and entered the game much too softly. The two men, masters of geometry, engage in diagonal exchanges worthy of their ranks but the Spanish wall is simply impassable. The world number two commits only two unforced errors of the set and inflicts the 4e bicycle wheel (6-0) of his Grand Slam career to Djokovic, who had never suffered such a snub in the final. There was an air of déjà vu on the Central: in 2008, in the final, Roger Federer had also suffered such an affront (6-1, 6-3, 6-0).

Before the meeting, we predicted an uncertain outcome. This year, we wanted to believe, the cards were slightly reshuffled. With, on one side, the master of the place and his 12 trophies as a solid breastplate; on the other, the only player still active to have unbolted the living statue in his garden (in 2015, in the quarterfinals). The dynamic even tilted a little in favor of Novak Djokovic, who had not lost against his rival in the Grand Slam since the Roland-Garros final in 2014.

The external elements were also playing for him, to believe him. There are, in the fall, breaches in the Spanish fortress that do not exist in the beautiful days of spring. The wet conditions make his ball less heavy, less lively, less high. “I thought these conditions would be more favorable to me. Rafa proved everyone wrong, his level was phenomenal today, I wasn’t building the points well but it was mainly because of his fantastic defense. Normally, after two or three strokes from the baseline, I take stock in front of 90% of the players but not in front of him. He deserves all the superlatives that we could use ”, the Serbian will say afterwards. Frustrated after his New York misadventure, he expected the Spaniard like a starving man.

But the second set only confirms the impression left by the first: short of solutions, Novak Djokovic is eaten alive by a Nadal who has the answer to everything. The Serb has to wait fifty-four minutes to register his first game.

Nadal as rarely aggressive against Djokovic

In memory, we had rarely seen Rafael Nadal attacking his rival so much in recent years. Since the start of the fortnight, he has sometimes played too short and without sparks until the semi-finals. This time, it is perfectly regulated, in particular in the service, which sometimes plays tricks on him. Opposite, the Serbian multiplies the waste in forehand and backhand. Only its raid of amortizations trap from time to time its dolphin in the standings. On a new point of anthology concludes with a sliced ​​backhand on the fly, the Spaniard achieves the double break and wins his throw-in and the 2e round in stride (6-2).

We must wait for the 3e set to see the Serbian come to life. When he breaks to pick up 3 games everywhere, for the first time in the match, we see him expressing his rage and haranguing the stands, whose gauge blithely exceeded 1,000 people on Sunday. With his back to the wall, the world number one begins to play better, more alert and regaining his lucidity. The public distributes “No-vak” in bursts, hoping that the match is prolonged a little. Nadal gets a break point at 4-4 after a cushioned-lob sequence from his opponent that he concludes with yet another forehand winner.

But the Serb does not crack and returns in front. The reprieve will not last, on a double fault, Novak Djokovic gives up his throw-in on a plateau, leaving the Spaniard to serve for the match at 6-5. In monster of realism, this one does not shun the offering and offers himself three match points which he concludes with a final winning service.

As usual, the monarch kneels on his promised land but for the first time, the tears of the 12 previous coronations have given way to the laughter of a kid, fists on his face. The same mischievous smile as the 19-year-old in bandana and capri pants who first triumphed at “Roland” fifteen years ago.

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