Rafa Nadal seeking 13th French Open title at Roland Garros
As he sets his sights on title number 13 at the French Open, we look at the statistics around Rafael Nadal's Roland Garros dominance.
Rafael Nadal will next week start his quest to win a 13th French Open title, with his incredible history at the clay-court grand slam indicating his lack of match practice will be no hindrance as he attempts to extend his own record.
Nadal is Roland Garros' Goliath, the aura he brings to the tennis court ratchets up when he enters the pristine surroundings on Paris' western side.
He is not unbeatable at the French Open and may be seen as vulnerable going into this year's delayed event, having played only three matches in Rome in preparation for the tournament.
However, there is overwhelming evidence to suggest he will again be holding La Coupe des Mousquetaires when all is said and done. Here we look at some of the numbers that illustrate his remarkable superiority at Roland Garros.
Nadal doubles up on Borg
Today, we go back to the start of the reign of the “King of Clay” in Paris: Rafael Nadal’s first-round victory over Lars Burgsmüller in 2005. #RolandGarros— Roland-Garros (@rolandgarros) May 25, 2020
Full match replay >> https://t.co/2wpVdYoQi3 pic.twitter.com/l87lpF1aF0
The basic numbers around Nadal's career at the French Open make for astonishing reading.
His 12 titles are double that of any other player in the Open Era, with the great Björn Borg having won the trophy six times.
He is the only player to have won the same grand slam 10 or more times, with just two players – Robin Söderling and Novak Djokovic – having beaten him at Roland Garros.
And Nadal's win-loss record on the red dirt looks even more impressive when you compare it to how he has performed elsewhere.
Nadal will always have Paris
Nadal possesses a win-loss record of 93-2 at the French Open, a winning percentage of 98, comfortably his best at any of the four majors.
He is 65-14 at the Australian Open and 53-12 at Wimbledon. The US Open is where he has proven most formidable after Roland Garros, racking up 64 wins and just 11 losses.
The King of Clay reaches a different level once he gets on his favourite surface, with the rare moments of vulnerability he shows on hard and grass courts disappearing almost completely.
If a player is to topple him at Roland Garros, they should not expect to outlast Nadal to achieve that feat.
Five setters thin on the ground
@DjokerNole "It's been an unbelievable match to be part of. I congratulate him, because that's why he's a champion.”— Roland-Garros (@rolandgarros) June 5, 2020
@RafaelNadal "It's very, very special for me. I want to congratulate Novak, he's a great champion and he will win here at Roland-Garros one day, I'm sure.”
Nadal's defeat to Söderling was in four sets while he has beaten in straights by Djokovic in the 2015 quarter-finals.
The Spaniard has only twice been taken to five sets in his career at Roland Garros, defeating John Isner in the first round in 2011 and Djokovic in the 2013 semi-finals.
Beyond the losses to Söderling and Djokovic, the only other year in which Nadal has failed to win the men's singles in his French Open career was in 2016, when injury led him to withdraw from a third-round clash with Marcel Granollers.
Otherwise, Nadal has consistently produced his devastating best at what can be considered his adopted home grand slam, winning the tournament without dropping a set on three occasions (2008, 2010 & 2017).
Seeds of doubt among Nadal's opponents
The seedings for the 2020 tournament will be announced on Friday. With Djokovic occupying top spot in the rankings, Nadal may start as the second seed.
Not being the top seed has not been an impediment to Nadal's success at Roland Garros. Indeed, only three of his titles have come while he was seeded first (2011, 2014 and 2018) and he won another two (2005 and 2017) despite being seeded fourth.
What is more likely to be a source of hope for Nadal's rivals is the rust factor. He played his first tournament since February in Rome and lost to Diego Schwartzman in the quarter-finals.
So is there any hope of him being dethroned in Paris?
Can Nadal be stopped?
Despite his relative lack of match practice compared to those who went deep into the US Open, it is difficult to see Nadal not reaching the latter stages of the French Open.
He has progressed to the last four of 10 of his previous 13 majors, reaching seven finals and claiming five titles.
Djokovic, a winner of five of the last eight slams, is the obvious favourite to stop Nadal, though the only active player to have beaten Nadal at this event will have to put his costly US Open indiscretion behind him to do so.
The US Open champion Dominic Thiem is the only player to reach the last four semi-finals at Roland Garros, losing a pair of finals to Nadal.
Thiem has four clay-court wins over Nadal and does have the experience of defeating him in a slam at this year's Australian Open. A repeat of that in Paris would perhaps be seen as a long-awaited changing of the guard in men's tennis, but history is firmly on the side of normal service being continued in what is 2020's final slam.
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