Rafael Nadal’s feat of winning 13 French Open titles is, as Roger Federer noted minutes after Nadal’s win in Paris, among the greatest achievements in sport. In later times — and with Nadal very likely to take that number to 14, maybe 15 or even more — his achievements in Paris would be seen akin to Don Bradman’s batting average of 99.94, or Usain Bolt’s feat of winning the 100m-200m double in three Olympic Games in a row. These are records that seem to defy the bounds of man’s physical and mental abilities.
The French Open is physically a very demanding tournament. Winning it two years in a row is a very fine achievement. Since the 1990s, only three men before Nadal had retained the French Open crown. To win the French Open three years in a row is almost unheard of — only three men before Nadal had done this since the tournament began in 1897. Nadal won four in row in one streak (2005, 2006, 2007, 2008), then five in a row (2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014), and the current streak stands at four. Nadal has won 100 matches and lost only two at Roland Garros. This is superhuman, almost miraculous. Nadal has turned miracles into banalities.
Roger Federer is 39 years old, Nadal is 34 and Djokovic 33. The three have won 57 Grand Slam titles among them. The Golden Age of tennis is now. These three are the greatest masters of tennis. It’s very likely they would have been the dominant players of any era in the past — it’s difficult to imagine even top-form Bjorn Borg beating Nadal in Paris, or top-form Pete Sampras beating Federer at his best at Wimbledon or US Open, or an in-form Andre Agassi beating top Djokovic in the Australian Open.
Rod Laver achieved the Grand Slam twice — all four Majors in 1962 and 1969. He’s considered the greatest ever by some. However, it’s important to point out that Laver won nine of his 11 Grand Slam crowns on grass — Wimbledon, US Open and Australian Open were played on grass in his time. Federer has eight grasscourt Grand Slam titles at Wimbledon, Pete Sampras has seven. It’s likely that if two more grasscourt Grand Slams had been available to Federer or Sampras, their overall Grand Slam count would have been much higher. In truth, Laver is a candidate to be called the greatest grasscourt player ever.
After winning on Sunday, Nadal uttered wise words about the times we’re living in, the need to place unity over discord. He spoke wiser words about living one’s life by one’s own rules: “You can’t be always unhappy because your neighbours have a bigger house than you or a bigger boat or have a better phone. You have to live your personal life, no? Personally, that’s the thing that I did during all my career. Just try to follow my road, try my best every single day.”
Nadal elevates sport; he wields the racquet like a bludgeon, but he’s got the mind of a philosopher. He is a role model worthy of emulation.