Rafael Nadal’s dominance on clay courts is to be expected. When he enters Roland Garros, his path to the title is Jordanesque, Gretzky-like, Ruthian or whatever comes to mind for GOAT athletes of the last century.
Seventeen years have passed since Nadal won his first Grand Slam at Roland Garros as a teenager. The ‘king of clay”s once-flowing hair may be thinning, but the French Open crown is still there. Nadal strolled through Casper Ruud, number 8, on Sunday morning for his 14th win in a French Open final. His win was never in doubt during his 6-3, 6-3, 6-0 win over Ruud. It was just a routine written into the script. The 36-year-old Spaniard has won every French Open final he’s ever played in four sets or fewer, winning 112 out of 115 matches at Roland Garros. He now has eight more French Open titles than Bjorn Borg, whose six French Slams were the previous standard on red clay before Nadal surpassed him in 2012.
However, Nadal’s clay dominance goes further than Borg could have ever imagined and is beginning to extend to the hard courts as well. Novak Djokovic’s stubborn vaccine resistance and Federer’s old age have conspired to give Nadal a monopoly on Grand Slams. In terms of dominance, Djokovic at the Australian Open 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 by a single player at a single Grand Slam in the Open Era, and Federer’s eight Wimbledon titles are the third most.
Djokovic’s absence left Nadal with an opportunity to win his second Australian Open. Winning the Australian Open and French Open in the first half of 2022 has put a considerable 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 Open Era’s most successful men’s Slam champion.
Nadal’s most formidable competitor was supposed to be reigning champion Novak Djokovic, but Nadal wiped the floor with him in the quarterfinals. Alexander Zverev tore a ligament in his ankle in a semifinal match against Nadal and had to retire. The 25-year-old German was a set down 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 resulted in chronic pain in his left foot, which has seemingly worsened over the past year. He retired from the 2021 US Open for rehab and the foot continuously bothered him throughout the French Open. During his French reboot, Nadal himself hobbled through a preliminary round loss at the Italian Open a month ago. Nadal hinted at a retirement ahead of the French Open because of the pain his foot was causing, and ahead of the final, Nadal told the media that in exchange for a new foot, he “would prefer to lose Sunday’s final”.
After the French Open final, Nadal told Eurosport that he played the match with “no feeling in his left foot” due to an injection in his nerve.
Despite his weakened condition, Nadal sounded confident about competing at Wimbledon. Nadal remains the only male player to have won three consecutive Grand Slams in a calendar year. He will do so in a field that has banned Russian and Belarusian competitions such as world No. 2 Danii Medvedev and Audrey Rublev.
A potential 23rd Grand Slam would put him level with Serena Williams. Nadal will be the obvious favorite when 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 ATP Tour history. His $500 million career earnings are only half that of Roger Federer as clay courts are considered a secondary surface on the ATP Tour. Nadal is a superstar on hard courts, but he’s a supernova on clay. The French Open is Nadal’s kingdom and it doesn’t look like he will be ousted from that throne any time soon.