October 11, 2020

What's Your Number?

I don't think anyone was expecting as one-sided a final as we saw today at the French Open. But for most of his almost three-hour match against Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal put on a master class in how to play -- and win -- on clay.

It may have taken a little longer than we expected after that rare bagel in the first set -- Nole finally started to make it a match in the third, breaking in the sixth game and keeping it close for a bit before Nadal was finally able to seal the deal.

And in doing so, he added a couple of major milestones to his résum&eacture; that paint a mean picture of just how dominating his game is, especially on these courts. Let's take a look at some of the astonishing achievements Rafa now lays claim to.

100: That's how many matches he's won at the French Open, starting with a 1:45 straight-setter against Germany's Lars Bursmuller back in 2005. He'd win thirty more in a row before his first loss at Roland Garros, and in sixteen appearances in Paris lost just one other time. The only man who's won more matches at a single Major is, not surprisingly, Roger Federer -- he's got 101 at Wimbledon and 102 in Melbourne -- but the 98% win rate surpasses both those feats. And the way he's playing, there's no reason to believe he won't set the record for total wins within a year.

13: The number of trophies he's captured in Paris, far exceeding what anyone else has claimed at a single Major. Novak and Roger have eight trophies each in Australia and Wimbledon respectively, and Rafa's now more than doubled the six earned in Paris by one-time king of clay Björn Borg in the 70s and early 80s. With fifteen years between his first and latest win here, too, Nadal has the longest reign of any man at one Slam. It's certainly more than luck that's brought him this historic victory, and as he goes for number fourteen next year, you can bet no one will be safe against him.

20: A record-tying number of Grand Slam trophies, something we would never have dreamed of a few years ago. When at Wimbledon in 2000, Pete Sampras passed Roy Emerson's twelve, a high-mark that had held up for more than three decades, and ended his career with a then-whopping fourteen Major titles, we thought he'd be the standard bearer for a long, long time. But less than seven years later, Roger Federer made himself the one to beat and, for seemingly good measure, extended his record to twenty. That Nadal could tie him and actually be in a position to take the lead too -- well, it's not something the Spaniard wanted to think about today, but goes to show just how awe-inspiring his accomplishment is.

Which of these records is most impressive? Roger will certainly look to extend his match record in Australia next year, as he plans to return to the courts in Melbourne, and Djokovic, with 17 Majors himself, is hot on the heels of his rivals. Meanwhile it sure feels like the 13-and-counting watermark will be the toughest to break, whatever Slam you're talking about -- we've got at least five years before either of his closest competitors can possibly match him.

Who knows were Nadal will stand when all is said and done. But his performance sure shows why it's so hard for anyone to make a crack in the Big Three. And as we start to approach what will inevitably be a changing of the guard, we certainly know whoever comes next will have big shoes to fill.

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