Tennis

Nadal claims 13th Roland Garros crown plus eight French Open takeaways

Rafa Nadal crushes Novak Djokovic in straight sets as Iga Swiatek wins shock first Slam in a unique tournament at Roland Garros.

By Nick McCarvel and Ken Browne ·

Rafael Nadal is still the King of Clay.

The Beijing 2008 Olympic gold medallist made more history in Paris on Sunday (11 October) by capturing his record 13th Roland Garros crown, beating longtime rival and tennis world No.1 Novak Djokovic of Serbia, 6-0, 6-2, 7-5.

Nadal was relentless in Paris, leaving the Serbian looking to the heavens for help, the Spanish champion going through the tournament without dropping a single set. It was the fourth time Nadal achieved such a feat: 2008, 2010, 2017 and 2020.

The clay courts at the Stade Roland-Garros belong to the 34-year-old Spaniard, and he once again showed why, leaving the 17-time Grand Slam winner chasing shadows in the first two sets.

Nadal’s French Open triumph ties him with Roger Federer at 20 Grand Slams won, the most of all time. It marks the first time the two have been tied in the major title tally.

Nadal’s win was his 100th at the clay-court major, with just two losses in 16 appearances (100-2).

In the women’s final, Iga Swiatek, a gold medallist in doubles at the Youth Olympic Games in 2018, scored Poland's first Grand Slam singles triumph.

The 19-year-old beat reigning Australian Open champion Sofia Kenin 6-4, 6-1.

Championship weekend at the French Open was four months later than usual after organisers moved the event from late May/early June to September and October due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the tournament starting just two weeks after the completion of the US Open.

Just as in other sports in 2020, athletes readjusted to conditions and played in front of limited crowds, battling on the 'terre battue' under a new roof, which came in handy on Court Philippe Chatrier during a rainy fortnight in the City of Lights.

Here are eight takeaways from a French Open on the site which will be used for the tennis event at the Paris 2024 Olympic Games.

1. Rafa’s reign: Nadal can’t be stopped at RG

Nadal's dominance is mind-boggling in sheer numbers, as we laid out before the tournament.

In a French Open that was unlike any before it, Rafa reigned supreme once again.

While it was Djokovic who had won the warm-up event in Rome (Nadal lost to Diego Schwartzman), he won meeting No.56 with his Serbian foe, though Djokovic leads their head-to-head 29-27. It was the ninth time they met in a major final.

With Nadal’s 13th French Open, he now has 20 majors and could look to surpass Federer in 2021 when major tennis is played again. Federer lost to Djokovic in the Australian Open semi-finals, then announced earlier this year he’d sit the rest of the season out following knee surgery.

Can Rafa climb atop the Slam leaderboard once and for all? Don't bet against it.

2. Poland Garros: Iga’s day in the sun

A virtual unknown outside of the sport before this event, world number 54 Swiatek is the lowest-ranked women's singles champion at Roland Garros.

Incredibly, it came just two years after her Junior Wimbledon triumph and her doubles gold medal at the Buenos Aires 2018 Youth Olympic Games.

No Polish player – man or woman – had won a singles major previously, with Agnieszka Radwanska going down in the 2012 Wimbledon final to Serena Williams.

Swiatek joins Kenin, 2019 French Open champion Ashleigh Barty, 2019 US Open winner Bianca Andreescu and now three-time major champ Naomi Osaka as young guns breaking their Slam duck in the last three seasons.

3. Brrrr! Pass the hot cocoa!

When it was announced the French Open would be held in late September/early October, fans and players alike knew they were in for a chilly time in Paris.

They were not wrong.

Players even took to wearing extra layers on court to deal with the coldest and toughest conditions they have perhaps ever experienced in a sport normally played in hot, summery weather or indoors.

Temperatures stayed largely between 12 and 18 degrees Celsius (50-60s Fahrenheit) and rain caused major disruption in the opening week with cold winds a regular feature.

The conditions made the court, the slowest of the four majors, even harder to hit through, and players complained about a new heavier brand of ball being used than in the past.

Limited crowds witnessed the matches with only 1,000 spectators allowed on the grounds each day, and players were put through strict COVID testing to control the tournament environment, although the early stages weren't without their testing controversies.

Novak Djokovic wears a long-sleeved vest under his tennis shirt during his fourth-round win over Karen Khachanov
Patricia Maria Tig, wearing a grey sweater, taps rackets after her third-round defeat to Fiona Ferro

4. Notable absentees: Osaka, Federer, Barty

While nothing is normal in 2020, the player fields in Paris were also affected with Osaka, Barty, Andreescu and Roger Federer all missing the third and final major of the year.

It’s the first time since World War II that Wimbledon was forced to cancel with the French rescheduled after the US Open.

Federer’s nagging knee injury has sidelined him for the year, while Canadian Andreescu has been unable to regain full fitness since winning the USO last season.

Osaka skipped Paris after her New York win while Barty, who won at Roland Garros a year ago, has not played any tour events since February, citing the pandemic.

Instead she's been seen cheering on her favourite Australian Rules Football team, the Richmond Tigers.

Nick Kyrgios, Barty’s fellow Australian, also opted out of travelling to either New York or Paris.

5. Achilles’ heel for Serena

Should we be worried about Serena Williams?

The four-time Olympic gold medallist and 23-time major champ made the trip to Paris after another near-miss at the US Open, where she lost in the semi-finals.

But she withdrew mid-event for one of the first times in her career at a major, citing an inflamed right Achilles that flared up during her defeat to Victoria Azarenka in New York.

"I really wanted to give an effort here," Williams told reporters when she withdrew before the second round. “I’m struggling to walk… so that’s a tell-tale sign that I should try to recover."

Tennis insiders don’t expect to see Serena back until the 2021 Australian Open, when she’ll try once again to tie Margaret Court’s all-time record of 24 majors.

Serena Williams played Kristie Ahn in the first round, but had to pull out after this match with an Achilles injury. (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)

6. Youth Olympics veterans shine

While Swiatek claimed the latter-event headlines, it was a shining event for 2018 Youth Olympic Games medallists, with French player Hugo Gaston not only being the last home hope standing in singles, but also playing beating a major champ along the way – and nearly a second.

Gaston, just 20, won gold in singles at Buenos Aires 2018 and the world number 239 had his first breakthrough at a major here.

He beat 2015 champ Stan Wawrinka, the Beijing 2008 doubles gold medallist, in five sets in the third round before taking recent US Open winner Dominic Thiem the distance in round four.

“It’s totally crazy,” he said after the Wawrinka win. “I’m trying to make the most of every moment."

Hugo Gaston holds his head in his hands after defeating Stan Wawrinka at the 2020 French Open. (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)

7. Ones to watch

Joining Kenin, Swiatek and Gaston in the 'ones to watch' category was a smattering of players who continue to make inroads in the sport.

Big-swinging Greek Stefanos Tsitsipas stretched Djokovic to five sets in the semis, his second major final four appearance.

Nadia Podoroska was perhaps the surprise package of the tournament, the 131-ranked Argentine becoming the first woman qualifier to make the semi-finals where she lost to Swiatek.

Italy’s Jannik Sinner made his first major quarter-final after a meteoric 12 months.

The former junior downhill skier Sinner pushed Nadal closer than anyone, serving for the opening set against the Spaniard, in his run to the final.

Other names to watch: Russia’s Andrey Rublev; Americans Sebastian Korda and Danielle Collins; and a 22-year-old German named Daniel Altmaier who is now on the brink of the world's top 100 having started the fortnight ranked 186.

Rafael Nadal and Jannik Sinner after Nadal's quarterfinals victory. (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)

8. What happens next for…

2018 champion Simona Halep. She was the tournament favourite heading in, but fell in the fourth round to Swiatek, winning just three games in that match.

Comeback queen Petra Kvitova, who in December 2016 was attacked by a home intruder in the Czech Republic and stabbed in the had. She made an inspired run to the semi-finals, losing to Kenin, and is still seeking a first major since winning Wimbledon 2014, her second major.

‘Next Gen’ guys like Tsitsipas, Rublev, Sinner, Alexander Zverev and more. After US Open breakthrough for Thiem, the young guns have been shut out by 'The Big 3' with Nadal and Djokovic meeting for a ninth time in a major final.

Andy Murray. The two-time Olympic gold medallist in singles was questioned in the press after a one-sided loss to Wawrinka in the first round, Murray having come back from a near career-ending hip injury in the last 18 months.

“I’ll keep going,” the passionate Scot told reporters. “Let’s see what the next few months hold."