June 9, 2019
Rafael Nadal made more history at Roland Garros with a record-breaking twelfth Grand Slam title there.
Volleys from the tennis gods, an almost telepathic anticipation, unplayable service angles and a refusal to be denied. Rafa had it all.
We are used to talking about Nadal’s brutal power and warrior spirit. But this was something more.
This was a true master at work, taming an immensely talented opponent with perfect harmony between body and mind.
As Nadal lay spread-eagled on the clay and absorbed his monumental achievement, you had to wonder whether it will ever be beaten.
No other player has ever won so many times at the same major.
Margaret Court won the Australian Open on eleven occasions.
We never thought anyone would come close to matching that record in this ultra-competitive open era.
But Nadal hasn’t just matched that number, he has beaten it.
‘I can’t explain what I have achieved and how I feel,’ he said. ‘It was a dream to play here in 2005. I never thought I would still be here in 2019. It’s an incredible moment and very special for me.’
And the way he achieved his 6-3, 5-7, 6-1, 6-1 victory was sublime.
This was a much better final than the scoreline suggested. Dominic Thiem had break points in the first, second and fourth sets.
But when the Austrian broke in the opener, Nadal simply broke back.
When Thiem took the second set just before the tie-break, Rafa just moved into overdrive and crushed him in the third.
And finally, when the 25-year-old asked more questions at the start of the fourth, Nadal provided the final answers and forced his opponent to abandon all hope.
And that is pretty much what it has been like for all Nadal’s opponents in his twelve Roland Garros finals.
Abandon hope, all ye who enter here.
We went into this final believing that Thiem could make his mark. Indeed he did much better than last year. He has matured.
But the physical and especially the psychological fatigue of the previous two days’ jousting with Novak Djokovic did eventually take their toll.
The drop-volleys, his lethal weapon against Novak, all but disappeared.
One day Thiem may well be King of Clay. He beat Rafa in Barcelona but Paris is another matter. Still, he is learning out there from the very best teacher there will ever be.
Dominic said: ‘Rafa well done. Of course I’m very sad to lose but you are such an amazing champion. A legend of our sport.’
Indeed he is. And for those of us who have been watching Nadal from the start and are more moved by the beauty of the game than the cold statistics, there will be lasting memories from this Roland Garros final.
The volleys. Impossibly deft control on the stretch. Beautiful, dead-hand, killer volleys.
Rafa, you surpassed yourself. And that is saying something.
By Mark Ryan