Rafael Nadal beats Novak Djokovic at French Open for record tying 20th major

Newstalk ZB / CNN,
Publish Date
Mon, 12 Oct 2020, 7:18AM
Rafael Nadal bites the winning trophy after claiming the French Open title for the 13th time  time with a straight sets victory over Novak Djokovic.
Rafael Nadal bites the winning trophy after claiming the French Open title for the 13th time time with a straight sets victory over Novak Djokovic.

Rafael Nadal beats Novak Djokovic at French Open for record tying 20th major

Newstalk ZB / CNN,
Publish Date
Mon, 12 Oct 2020, 7:18AM

In this unusual, surreal 2020, Rafael Nadal carved out a remarkable piece of history by reaching a landmark 20 in tennis terms.

More specifically, winning a 20th grand slam title to equal pal and fellow "Big Three" member Roger Federer's men's all-time record.

He did so by beating the other member of the elite group, Novak Djokovic, 6-0 6-2 7-5, in the French Open final under the roof on Philippe Chatrier Court amid Paris' late afternoon autumnal chill.

Nadal sunk to his knees after an ace on championship point in what was a surprisingly lopsided conclusion to the fortnight.

But this is indeed Nadal on clay. He said the tournament's new balls and cool weather don't favor his spin heavy game -- the coronavirus pandemic prompted organizers to move the event from its usual late May start -- but the 34-year-old Spaniard overcame the conditions to tally a 13th Roland Garros crown and 100th match win.

In the immediate aftermath, Nadal was thinking more about his accomplishment at the French Open rather than tying the Swiss' mark.

"I do not think today about the 20th to equal Roger on this great number," he said as he addressed the crowd. "For me this is just a Roland Garros victory. Roland Garros means everything to me.

"I spent here the most important moments, or most of the most important moments in my tennis career, no doubt about that. Just to play here is a true inspiration and the love story I have with this city and with this court is unforgettable."

He elevated his game to oust his conqueror in his lone warmup tournament, Diego Schwartzman, in the semifinals before stepping it up another notch Sunday.

'All the superlatives you can use'

"I admire all his achievements," said Djokovic, one of only two players to top Nadal at the French Open. "Especially the one here. It's a stunning score and results and records that he's got on this court.

"Winning 13 times, yeah, there's not much you can say. All the superlatives you can use, he deserves them."

Nadal compiled 31 winners to only 14 unforced errors to hand the 17-time grand slam winner the worst loss in any of his 27 grand slam finals. He stopped Djokovic, too, from becoming the first man in the Open Era to win each of the majors at least twice.

"In Australia he killed me a couple of times ago," Nadal said, referring to a two-hour drubbing in the 2019 Australian Open final. "Clear today was for me. We played plenty of times together. One day one wins, another day wins the other."

Nadal has never lost a French Open final but Djokovic certainly seemed to present danger.

He had won their last three grand slam matches and they were huge blows to Nadal -- including in the quarterfinals at Roland Garros five years ago.

The Serb had only suffered defeat in one match in 2020 -- that default at the US Open last month against Pablo Carreno Busta -- and benefited from more buildup matches in the past two months than his rival.

Djokovic suffered neck and shoulder issues in his rematch with Carreno Busta on Wednesday, when he donned long sleeves, and one couldn't help but wonder if something was bothering the world No. 1 again.

The long sleeves were back, two days after he sported short sleeves in his semifinal against Stefanos Tsitsipas that started in the evening and ended around 10:30 p.m. local time. He reverted to the short sleeves after he fell behind by two sets.

Rare 6-0 loss

He lost a set 6-0 at a major for only the fourth time in his grand slam career according to website Tennis Abstract and even though Djokovic has used the drop shot extensively on the clay, he attempted an eye-catching four in the first game.

His unforced error tally soared to 52.

But Djokovic said nothing was amiss while the drop shots were a tactic to try to disrupt his foe's rhythm.

"Everything was okay," he told reporters. "I was ready for this match. It's just that I was overplayed. I was beaten by a guy who was just perfect today. Especially the first two sets. That's all there is to it. I will not absolutely find any other justification for this loss."

He was broken from 40-15 in the opening game to give Nadal the best possible start in front of the limited number of fans in attendance. They were capped at 1,000 amid the pandemic, with tennis players now used to competing behind closed doors or in front of small numbers.

Nadal skipped the US Open due to virus concerns and to prepare for the French Open.

"I want to send a message to everyone in the world," said Nadal. "We are facing one of the worst moments that I think we remember in this world, facing and fighting against this virus, just keep going, stay positive and all the very best.

"Together probably we will go through this and we will (beat) the virus soon."

The finalists exchanged several extended rallies that saw both well outside the doubles lines, Nadal habitually coming out on top.

Djokovic was given a small glimmer of hope by saving a trio of break points to begin the second yet the respite didn't linger.

In his next service game, Nadal did break through for a 2-1 advantage.

As the tussle progressed, it was clear Djokovic wouldn't be the first man in 83 tries to come back from two sets down against Nadal at Roland Garros and an inevitable break resulted at 2-2 in the third after Nadal continued to knock on the door.

However, it wasn't straight forward from there.

Djokovic resistance

Nadal was broken for the first time and Djokovic got the crowd going with his emphatic celebration.

It kickstarted a brief renaissance as he went ahead 4-3 in the third.

Djokovic was now moving better and launching himself into shots but Nadal met the challenge and yelled "come on" to hold for 4-4. Finally, it was a contest.

Djokovic fended off a break point thanks to a gutsy second serve, backhand combination, but cracked at 5-5 on a double fault wide.

Nadal then served it out to love, capping the historic contest with the ace out wide to seal another French Open victory.

text by Ravi Ubha, CNN