In the final of the first Grand Slam of the season, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer battled for the Australian Open title in a throwback to their famed rivalry of the old, and nobody complained when Nadal lost the epic five-set match to Federer. Both players are admittedly well past their prime, and it is only their sheer passion for the game that has kept them in the competition. Yesterday, it was Nadal’s turn to shine though, as he vanquished Swiss Stan Wawrinka in a brutal, 6-2, 6-3, 6-1 three-set demolition at his favourite Roland Garros to bring back memories of Nadal’s clay court domination at the beginning of this decade. With stars like Djokovic and Federer falling by the wayside, it was Nadal who stood his own, claiming his third French Open title in the process, the most by an individual in the Open era. The sheer magnitude of the achievement is somewhat hard to comprehend, and this was Nadal’s 15th Grand Slam title, three behind legend Roger Federer.
Nadal had not won a Grand Slam since his French Open triumph in 2014, reaching only quarter-finals twice in the last two years, as he struggled with a wrist injury that forced him to withdraw in the second round of the French Open last year. His struggle with form and injury has led him to drop to No.10 in the rankings, but he was upbeat about his future after winning the title yesterday, saying “I have doubts every day but that’s good as it makes me work hard with more intensity,” he said. “You have to be humble and accept that you have to work to improve things. I have doubts today, I had doubts in the last three years, I will have doubts in a few days. Life is never clear. If you have no doubts, then you are very arrogant. I am not an arrogant person.”
Coming into the tournament though, he was a favourite to start with, as he dominated the clay court lists with victories in Monte Carlo, Barcelona and Madrid. He lost just one match on clay all year while his win on Sunday took his Paris record to a stunning 79 wins and only two losses.
With this triumph, Nadal also became the first player to not drop a set the entire Grand Slam a record third time, a testimony to the utter domination he forced down upon opponents. He lost merely 35 games in the tournament, second only to legend Bjorn Borg’s record of 32 in the 1979 season.
While it may be that Nadal has moved on from the prime of his career, when he was unquestionably the king of clay, the victory at Roland Garros proves that, although they may be past their prime, Nadal and Federer have still quite a lot to offer to the tennis community.