Rafael Nadal equalled Roger Federer’s all-time men’s Grand Slam record by thrashing Novak Djokovic in the French Open final.
Nadal, now a 13-time champion at Roland Garros, was at his devastating best on Sunday afternoon, winning 6-0 6-2 7-5 in two hours and 41 minutes. He didn’t drop a set throughout the tournament.
It was his 100th win on the Parisian clay and it brought him a 20th major title – the same total as Federer and now the joint-highest in the men’s game.
The ruthless manner of this victory, despite Nadal’s pedigree at this tournament – where he has only lost twice in 102 matches, was something breathtaking.
Nadal had not beaten Djokovic at a Slam since winning the final here in 2014 and Djokovic had only lost one match – via default at the US Open – this season.
But his first proper defeat of the year in 39 matches was as brutal as they come, as Nadal exerted his dominance over the world No. 1.
It was all the more humorous, in hindsight, that both players agreed pre-tournament that these heavier, colder October conditions, compared to the usual June finish, would favour Djokovic, with Nadal described as more ‘beatable’ in 2020.
That couldn’t have looked further from the case, particularly in the first two sets, as Djokovic, 33, failed to land a glove on the 34-year-old world No. 2 from Spain.
Djokovic will perhaps look back with regret at his refusal to move away from a tactic that saw him throw in drop-shots with ridiculous frequency, but with Nadal in this form, it’s hard to find any tactical shift that would have brought about a different outcome.
He was strangely flat until breaking Nadal for the first time midway through the third set. A roar did bring about a fleeting shift in momentum as the real Djokovic finally arrived but it was too little too late.
It now seems inevitable that Nadal will surpass Federer, 39, in the GOAT (greatest of all time) race.
While a second title in Australia seems unlikely if Djokovic, who has won eight titles there, is on song, he will fancy his chances of being the outright Slam leader at this event in six months time. With Federer in his 40th year, it would take something extraordinary to win another major.
Djokovic has been utilising the drop-shot regularly during this tournament and threw in five – with varying degrees of success – in the opening game.
Despite having been 40-15 up, Djokovic was broken – failing to put his opponent away with a smash on break point – as Nadal drew first blood on Chatrier.
A netted backhand from the world No. 1 handed Nadal a double break as he took a 3-0 lead after 20 minutes.
There were some mesmerising rallies but it was Nadal who was winning the big points. He staved off two break points and went on to break Djokovic for a third time, despite the Serb leading 40-0.
Nadal made no mistake in force-feeding the bagel – arguably the most competitive 6-0 set you will ever see.
Djokovic finally got on the board after 55 minutes. He staved off three break points to hold at the start of the second set.
But for the fourth time in five service games, he was broken again as Nadal tightened his grip on the match.
Another break two games later saw Nadal win his 10th game of the match, with Djokovic still only winning one.
He added a second to make the scoreline slightly more respectable but with an hour and 35 minutes gone, he was 6-0 6-2 down and staring down the barrel of defeat.
A break in the fourth game of the third set appeared to signal the end for the top seed but there was a sudden roar of emotion from the otherwise flat Serb as he hit back and then held for 4-3.
But despite sparking a brief spell of improvement, it ultimately didn’t change the course of the match, a double fault handed Nadal a chance to serve for the match – which he took – and the ‘King of Clay’ once again reigned supreme in Paris.
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