French Open 2019

Rafa revels in dirt dozen

An emotional Rafael Nadal hoisting the Musketeers' Trophy for the 12th time on Sunday, after seeing off Dominic Thiem in the French Open final for the second year running. PHOTO: EPA-EFE
An emotional Rafael Nadal hoisting the Musketeers' Trophy for the 12th time on Sunday, after seeing off Dominic Thiem in the French Open final for the second year running. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

Spaniard still perfect in Roland Garros finals and wants to be in best shape for Wimbledon

PARIS • Roland Garros keeps changing its look and shape in the 21st century.

It is vaster and more avant-garde, and perhaps it will become less crowded in the passageways as fans shuffle from match to match.

Even the main Court Philippe Chatrier, where Rafael Nadal won his 12th French Open singles title on Sunday, was reconstructed in the past year. It might be hard to believe at this stage, but the Spaniard will fade from view someday, too.

For now, Nadal, 33, remains a pillar of the place - more immovable, as it turns out, than many a stadium. He has cemented his reputation and legacy year after year, duel after duel, rout after rout.

The "King of Clay" added another layer of mortar on Sunday by holding off Dominic Thiem, 6-3, 5-7, 6-1, 6-1, in what was a dazzler of a final.

Nadal has been giving it all in Paris and elsewhere since 2005, and he is now 12-0 in finals, with a 93-2 win-loss record, at Roland Garros.

In his post-match interview, the world No. 2, who dropped only two sets en route to his 18th Grand Slam, admitted he "could not explain" such lofty statistics, saying: "My feeling for me is it is a dream. When I played the first time here in 2005, I could not think that I'd be coming back here in 2019.

  • BEST RECORD IN GRAND SLAM FINALS

  • AUSTRALIAN OPEN

    Novak Djokovic: 7-0

    FRENCH OPEN

    Rafael Nadal: 12-0

    WIMBLEDON

    Roger Federer: 8-3

    US OPEN

    Jimmy Connors, Federer: 5-2

"This is a very satisfying victory. In 2018, I only played nine events and finished just seven of them.

"I had issues with my knee and surgery on my foot, so many issues in the last 18 months have made the last few weeks very special."

Fifteen-time golf Major winner and former world No. 1 Tiger Woods tweeted: "The King of Clay does not like to share his wealth. Congrats Rafael Nadal on #12!"

Recalling how he had been "too negative" after his semi-final defeat by Thiem in Barcelona, Nadal revealed that it spurred him to drastically "change the attitude and mentality to play the next couple of weeks".

His injuries have also given Nadal, who secured his 82nd career title and 950th match win, fresh perspective that his longevity at the top has a finite lifespan.

He added: "All the things that I went through probably give me that extra passion when I am playing, because I know I will not be here forever."

That means Nadal is not obsessed with beating Federer's record of 20 Slams, even though the former world No. 1 believes he would have already surpassed that mark, had it not been for dodgy knees, insisting he "lost around 15 or even more Grand Slams in my career for injuries".

He said: "That's not the way that I see the life. It's a motivation, yes, but... it's not what makes me get up every morning or go and train and play.

"You can't be frustrated all the time because your neighbour has a bigger house than you or a bigger TV or better garden.

"I don't think my inner happiness or my future will change if I equal Federer... I have already achieved more in my career than I imagined."

But what continues to drive Nadal is his love for playing tennis and he is training his sights on a third Wimbledon title.

Revealing he would be skipping all other grass court events to give himself the best possible chance of staying fit ahead of the event, which starts on July 1, he said: "I know I played a great event last year. I have been able to be very close to winning another title there. As everybody knows, I love to play on grass.

"I am not able to play so many weeks in a row like I did 10 years ago, eight years ago. So I will not play before Wimbledon. What gives me a better chance is being healthy more than playing a lot of matches before."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS, NY TIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 11, 2019, with the headline 'Rafa revels in dirt dozen'. Print Edition | Subscribe