There was a thought, maybe even a hope, from a minority that just wanted to see some variety, that the different setting and conditions for this year’s French Open would make things too difficult for Rafael Nadal. Or maybe just more difficult. Or maybe even slightly difficult.
Nadal had only played one official event before this, the Italian Open, where he’d lost in the quarters to Diego Schwartzman. Nadal wasn’t a fan of the cooler conditions there. The change to a fall tournament made the weather far colder and damper than late May, when the tournament is usually held. That made the courts slower, the balls heavier, and maybe Nadal wouldn’t quite get the spin and power that had made him so impenetrable in his fortress. The tournament had switched the brand of balls it was using, only accentuating their heaviness. So maybe there would be cracks?
Nadal claimed his unfathomable 13th title at Roland Garros, this time doing so for the first time under a roof, by festooning Novak Djokovic’s organs all around Court Phillipe-Chatrier in straight sets. Djokovic was clearly off-color, spraying from both wings and looking physically down, aside from a brief revival in the third set when it was already too late. He won only two of the first 14 games of the match, and coming back from two sets down against Nadal at Roland Garros is something like defeating Godzilla with a small piece of plastic tubing. Perhaps Djokovic was drained from his five-set semifinal on Friday. Or perhaps it wouldn’t have mattered, as Nadal was just about at his best, and no one comes within a zip code of him in Paris when he is. This is the fourth time he’s won the tournament without dropping a set. Those conditions sure were challenging, huh?
It is Nadal’s 20th major title, tying him with Roger Federer for most all-time — which, when combined with his 24-16 record against Federer, certainly gives him a strong case to be named the greatest player in history.
It won’t be long for either Nadal to attempt to grab the top spot by himself, Federer to grab it back (if he’s recovered from two knee surgeries), or Djokovic to climb closer to them, as the Australian Open is still slated for its normal slot in January. While Dominic Thiem’s win in New York was hoped to be the dawn of someone, anyone, breaking through the troika that have ruled the sport for close to 20 years now, the French Open was an indication that the day may not come until these three simply retire. Thiem lost in the quarters as his exploits at the US Open left him a shell of the usual clay-court demon he is (back-to-back finalist). Stefanos Tsitsipas, another member of the “next” legion, took Djokovic to that fifth set in the semis but couldn’t bring him down. Big Bird lookalike Alex Zverev bit it in the fourth round.
Same as it ever was.