Tennis

Rafael Nadal’s dominance at the French Open: By the numbers 

The Spaniard is the undeniable ‘King of Clay’ and so much more, and his other-worldly stats at Roland Garros are clear indication he’s the favourite there again this year.

By Nick McCarvel ·

Need reason to believe Rafael Nadal won’t lift his unprecedented 13th French Open trophy on October 11th? Sorry, this isn’t the article for you then.

The tennis legend, Beijing 2008 Olympic gold medallist and aptly nicknamed King of Clay kicks off his campaign for No.13 at the French Open when the re-scheduled tournament starts Sunday (27 Sept.).

The 12-time title winner skipped the trip to New York City for the US Open, citing travel concerns around the COVID-19 pandemic. The extra time at home in Spain gave him a chance to gear up for the red clay, which plays vastly slower and with different bounces compared to the speedy hardcourts of the U.S.

Last week, Nadal won his first two matches in Rome, marking his first official play since February. He lost in the quarter-finals of the Italian Open to Argentina’s Diego Schwartzman, the world No.15.

But no alarm bells are going off for team Nadal.

Rafa Nadal: My Rio Highlights

The best moments from the 2016 Summer Olympic Games

“I’m going to keep working,” said Nadal, according to ATPTour.com, after the loss. “I did my job (in Rome). I did a couple things well and other things bad and that's it. At least I played three matches. I fought until the end.”

He continued: “I know how to do it. I’m going to keep working and keep practising with the right attitude and try to give myself a chance to be ready."

Ready, that is, to continue his dominance in Paris, where he holds a historic 12 titles, the most of any player at one of tennis’ four major tournaments. The Spaniard is an astounding 93-2 in 15 career appearances in Paris, dating back to his debut in 2005.

Here, we offer some of Nadal’s most eye-popping numbers at the French Open, which – unsurprisingly – have contributed in making him the odds-on favourite in 2020, though world No.1 Novak Djokovic and US Open winner Dominic Thiem are seen as his biggest challengers.

Rafael Nadal at the French Open, 2005

Nadal’s sparkling Roland Garros career

Twelve times Nadal has lifted the Coupe de Mousquetaires inside Court Philippe Chatrier, easily the most of any player at one Grand Slam in the Open Era, with Martina Navratilova winning nine Wimbledons, Roger Federer eight, Djokovic’s eight Australian Opens and Serena Williams’ seven in both Australia and at Wimbledon.

Amassing those 12 trophies has taken 93 wins and just two losses: In the fourth round in 2009 to Swede Robin Soderling; and in the quarter-finals in 2015 to Djokovic. Nadal withdrew from the event prior to his third-round match in 2016 due to a left wrist injury.

Another injury forced Nadal to miss his French Open debut in 2004 at age 18. So a year later, when he played his first match at the event, he was one of the tournament favourites, having won events in Monte Carlo, Barcelona and Rome in the lead-up.

“Everyone was talking about him,” his first opponent, Lars Burgsmuller, told USA TODAY in 2015. “He was on the way up. Everyone knew that he would be very, very good.”

Rafael Nadal: Olympic highlights

The best of Spain's Rafael Nadal at the Olympic Games, including his single...

The next level: Inside Nadal’s 95 matches

While Nadal has lost just those two matches, there have been few times he’s been threatened over the best-of-five-set format. In fact, he owns a 277-27 record in sets played at the French Open.

Only twice Nadal has been stretched to five sets: A come-from-behind win against American John Isner in the first round in 2011 and a close-as-can-be semi-final against Djokovic in 2013, Nadal triumphing 6-4 3-6 6-1 6-7(3) 9-7.

Djokovic led that match by a break of serve late in the fifth set (4-3 serving), only to falter against his rival.

“Everybody knows Novak is a fighter,” Nadal said, according to The Guardian. “That’s why this is a special sport.”

That year, Nadal was coming back from a seven-month layoff due to a knee injury that knocked him out of the London 2012 Summer Games.

The argument could be made that Nadal’s 2008 French Open was his most dominant, as it marked the first time he won the event without dropping a set, and lost just 41 games in seven matches played.

He did not drop a set in 2010, either, as well as in 2017. He would lose only 35 games in seven matches that year, though Pablo Carreño Busta retired from their quarter-final after just one set played. In the final, Nadal dismantled 2015 champ Stan Wawrinka 6-2 6-3 6-1.

A league of his own

Winning over 90 percent of his career matches on red clay (97.8 in Paris), Nadal will hit the century mark – 100 wins at the French Open – should he contest and win each of his seven matches during the coming fortnight.

Only Federer (Wimbledon), Serena (US Open), Navratilova (Wimbledon) and Chris Evert (US Open) have reached triple digits in the win column at a major in the Open Era.

Nadal is eyeing even more history in Paris: A victory would be his 20th major title overall, equalling him with Federer, and tying the all-time record. Federer is out for the remainder of the 2020 season after knee surgery earlier this year.

There will, however, be one first for Nadal this French Open: With the tournament moved from its usual calendar slot in late May to late September, it’ll be the first time he won’t celebrate his birthday (3 June) at the event.

Regardless, a (very) belated feliz cumpleaños, Rafa.