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Rafael Nadal: Roland Garros’ Finest Artist

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18 years of age, a sleeveless shirt, white capris and bandana and a fast-kicking lefty forehand, Rafael Nadal ticked through that 2005 French Open draw with surreal efficiency. He turned 19 on the day of the semifinals, and celebrated it with victory over Roger Federer.

Two days later, he defeated Argentine, Mariano Puerta in the final, becoming the second male player after Mats Wilander to win the French Open on his first attempt. He’s the youngest Grand Slam champion in the last 28 years, and the last man to win a major as a teenager.

Nadal celebrates after winning his first French Open title in 2005.

What was to follow would never have crossed a mortal’s mind. The year 2005 kick-started what has been a long and fruitful affair between the Spaniard and the red dirt of Paris.

13 years since his first triumph as a teenager, we look back at how Rafael Nadal, who as a teenager, was already dubbed the King of Clay, has dominated an event in a way no one else in sport’s history has.

Nadal would go on to beat eternal rival, Roger Federer in three straight finals, including a 6-1, 6-3, 6-0 dismantling of the Swiss in 2008 to win a fourth straight French Open title, constantly wiping out the Swiss’ dream of holding all Grand Slam titles in a calendar year. During the trophy presentation in 2008, Nadal felt compelled to say: “Roger, I’m sorry.”

Rafael Nadal beat Roger Federer in the final for the third straight year to win his fourth French Open title.

In 2009, Nadal was brought back to Earth. What was deemed impossible, happened. Nadal would be beaten for the first time at Roland Garros. Robin Soderling of Sweden, then ranked 25 in the world, stunned the Spaniard 6-2, 6-7, 6-4, 7-6 in the fourth round. Not a soul predicted that!

Nadal however, got his revenge the following year as he defeated the Swede to claim a fifth title. Nadal would then swept clean the red dirt of Paris for the next four years, beating Roger Federer yet again, Novak Djokovic, David Ferrer and Djokovic again, to wrap up an astonishing ninth French Open title.

The Spaniard was handed his second defeat till date in the quarterfinals in 2015, when he lost to eventual runner-up, Novak Djokovic.

A wrist injury saw the Spaniard pull out of the 2016 event midway and had to wait another year to accomplish the La Décima. And in 2017, the King of Clay did just that without dropping a single set for the third time, adding to his wins in Paris in 2008 and 2010. He bested Stan Wawrinka 6-2, 6-3, 6-1 to win that tenth French Open crown.

 

The achievement, called La Décima (“the tenth” in Spanish), made Nadal the first male or female in the Open era to win ten titles from a single Grand Slam tournament, following similar achievements in Monte Carlo and Barcelona.

It’s another year now; the French Open kicks off Sunday, 27 May. And with a staggering 79-2 win-loss record at the Roland Garros, wouldn’t they just give him the title already?

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