Rafael Nadal’s dominance on clay is to be expected. When he enters Roland Garros, his path to the title is Jordanesque, Gretzky-esque, Ruthian, or whatever GOAT athletes of the last century come to mind.
Seventeen years have passed since Nadal won his first Grand Slam at Roland Garros as a teenager. The once flowing hair of the “King of Clay” may be thinning, but the French Open crown is still there. Nadal sauntered through number 8 Casper Ruud for his 14th win in a French Open Final on Sunday morning. His win was never in question during his 6-3, 6-3, 6-0 stomping of Ruud. It was just a routine written into the script. The 36-year-old Spaniard has won every French Open Final he ever played in four sets or less, winning 112 out of 115 games at Roland Garros. He now holds eight more French Open titles than Björn Borg, whose six French slams were the previous red clay standard before Nadal surpassed him in 2012.
However, Nadal’s dominance on clay goes further than Borg ever imagined and is beginning to extend to the clay courts as well. Novak Djokovic’s stubborn vaccine resistance and Federer’s aging have resulted in Nadal gaining a monopoly on Grand Slams. In terms of dominance, Djokovic at the Australian and Federer at Wimbledon are the closest equivalents to Nadal’s reign at the French Open. Djokovic’s nine titles are the second most titles won at a single Grand Slam by a single player in the Open Era, and Federer’s eight Wimbledon titles are the third most.
Djokovic’s absence left an opening for Nadal to win his second Australian Open. Winning the Australian and French Open in the first half of 2022 has put a significant distance between him, Djokovic and Federer in the arms race for the men’s Grand Slam title. Nadal’s 22nd Grand Slam gives him two more than his contemporary rivals as the most prolific men’s slam champions in the open era.
Nadal’s most formidable competition would be reigning champion Novak Djokovic, but Nadal wiped him out in the quarter-finals. Alexander Zverev tore a ligament in his ankle during a semifinal match against Nadal and had to withdraw. The 25-year-old German was one set behind after a 7-6 (10/8), 6-6 start against Nadal at the time of his ankle injury†
Nadal’s nearly 20-year battle with Müller-Weiss disease has caused chronic left foot pain, which has seemingly worsened in the past year. He withdrew from the 2021 US Open to rehab, and the foot continuously hindered him during the French Open. During his French setup, Nadal himself stumbled through an early defeat at the Italian Open a month ago. Nadal hinted at retirement from the French Open due to the pain caused by his foot and ahead of the final, Nadal told media he would “d rather lose Sunday’s final” in exchange for a new foot.
After the French Open final, Nadal told Eurosport that he played the game with “no feeling in” his left foot due to an injection to the nerve.
Despite his weakened condition, Nadal sounded confident about his entry into Wimbledon. Nadal remains the only male player to win three consecutive Grand Slams in a calendar year. He will do so in a field that banned Russian and Belarusian leagues such as world No. 2 Danii Medvedev and Audrey Rublev.
A potential 23rd Grand Slam would put him on par with Serena Williams. Nadal will be the apparent favorite as he returns for a 15th promenade through the French Open field. He would also become the second oldest male Grand Slam champion in history.
Nadal is the most unique star in the history of the ATP Tour. His $500 million career earnings are only half that of Roger Federer, as clay courts are considered the secondary surface on the ATP Tour. Nadal is a superstar on hard court, but he is a supernova on clay. The French Open is Nadal’s kingdom and it doesn’t look like he will be ousted from that throne anytime soon.