Unbelievable! We’ve seen Rafa Nadal play well before, but this was something else. Thiem was stunned because he'd actually played a good match but just couldn’t find a chink in the Nadal armour. I enjoyed the humour with which Ken Rosewall, invited to present the trophy, added “I’m pleased I’m not playing today!” and “we would like to have seen a few more sets”. But yesterday Nadal was unrivalled on court and gracious off it, heaping praise on Thiem and the organisers and even addressing the crowd in French, slightly more limited than his English. Despite all that, to woo the Paris crowd Nadal’s racquet does the talking.
Two defeats in 88 matches
Nadal’s tally at Roland Garros now stands at 11, his first sealed in 2005, three years before La Roja won the Euros in Austria and Switzerland. Across that whole period, he has only failed to win the tournament three times: in 2009, when he lost to Söderling after struggling with a knee injury, in 2015 when he came up against Djokovic in the form of his life, and the following year, in 2016, when he had to pull out through injury. That’s a total of 88 matches played and two lost, and the most admirable part is how he has come through and smoothed out more than one rough patch, bouncing back to reach the kind of level - like yesterday - that brushes perfection. Nadal’s career is a tribute to effort, perseverance and concentration. At no point on Sunday was there a doubt, a lapse, or a momentary wobble.
Inspiration for La Roja
And so once again, like so many more times before, ahead of a World Cup we can look towards these Nadal victories, in this instance “Nadal number 11”, an implacable model of a model sportsman who is proud of Spain and an example to all Spaniards. To a certain extent he and Gasol are a long-distance duo, and between them they have inspired a glorious era in Spanish sport that includes so many. They are joined by La Roja’s winning generation, of which Sergio Ramos, Iniesta, Silva and Reina remain from that distant memory of success in Vienna. Distant, but still three years after Nadal’s first Roland Garros, and with a new challenge on the horizon they can once again draw inspiration from the clay-court maestro.