Photo: Roland Garros
To say there was any doubt who the true King of Clay was heading into Sunday’s French Open final between Rafael Nadal, the reigning Rogers Cup presented by National Bank champion, and Novak Djokovic would be untrue. Nadal, now aged 34 and ranked No. 2 on the ATP Tour, had won the Roland Garros title in 2017, 2018 and 2019 – and 12 times in total – prior to this head to head with the World No. 1.
Djokovic, meanwhile, was the champion in 2016, beating Andy Murray in four sets in the final with Nadal having pulled out in round three. But this match on Philippe Chartier also had implications involving the other member of the ‘big three’ in that if Nadal won, he would join Roger Federer on 20 Grand Slam singles titles – the most of all time on the men’s tour.
In truth, Sunday’s championship match – played on a chilly October afternoon rather than a typical, scorching summer’s day – was a procession for the Spaniard as he dismantled Djokovic in front of a reduced crowd due to the ongoing impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The first and second sets, which finished 6-0, 6-2 to Nadal respectively, were a masterclass in clay court expertise. Despite an unfamiliar-feeling surface and different balls than both players are used to at this event, neither of these alterations to the “norm” were affecting the Spaniard.
The third set saw Djokovic put up a sterner fight. Having had his serve broken to make it 2-3 in Nadal’s favour, the Serbian broke back immediately to make it 3-3. But Nadal’s dominance was undeniable and another drop of serve by Djokovic ensured the World No. 2 would serve for the match.
At 40:0 up, on championship point, Nadal fired an unreturnable serve to hit an ace winner and celebrated it with a beaming smile. With that shot, he went level with Federer on 20 Grand Slam titles. And, with the form he’s in, who’s to say he won’t surpass the great Swiss?