La Decima: Rafa immortalised at Roland-Garros
Rafael Nadal has won a magical 10th title at Roland-Garros with a stunning display against Stan Wawrinka, achieving 'La Decima' and reaffirming his status as the greatest clay-courter of all time.
Rafael Nadal’s reputation as the undisputed King of Clay has reached new heights with the Spaniard dishing out a clay-court masterclass to claim his 10th Roland-Garros crown on Sunday.
The Spaniard was at his ruthless best in a 6-2, 6-3, 6-1 dismissal of 2014 champion Stan Wawrinka, becoming just the third man after Ken Rosewall and Pete Sampras to win a Grand Slam singles title as a teenager, in his 20s and in his 30s. His 15th major title takes him past Sampras into outright second behind only Roger Federer for most Grand Slam singles titles.
“It’s a feeling that’s impossible to describe,” Nadal said. “For me the nerves and the adrenaline I feel when I play on this court is impossible to compare to another court. It is the most important event in my career, to win again here is impossible to describe.”
Facing Stan Wawrinka for the first time in a Grand Slam final, only one man would retain their flawless record. Nadal was unbeaten in nine prior Roland-Garros deciders, while Wawrinka had never lost a Grand Slam final in three previous showdowns.
This was to be all Nadal’s day, however, with Wawrinka’s misery only compounded as he never came close to finding his A-game.
“I think from the beginning from my side, for sure, I didn't play my best tennis,” Wawrinka conceded. “I think I was a little bit hesitating with my selection of shots.
“I was always a little bit between for a few reasons. He puts this doubt in your head when you play against him because he’s playing so well. And all the effort I have been doing last few weeks to get to my best level again, to get some confidence again, and to win all those matches, some tough matches. So many reasons made that score today, but mainly because he was playing better.”
It capped a remarkable 12-month turnaround for the 31-year-old. Last year, he was forced to withdraw ahead of his third-round match with a left wrist injury. Victory over Wawrinka was the ultimate reward for so much rehabilitation, so much practice, for so little guarantee.
“You know, on paper, when you look at the scores, it all seems fairly easy,” he said of the final. “But it's not. As I said before, the French Open is the most important tournament of the year. That means when you arrive in Paris, I'm very nervous and I know that it's going to be difficult for me. Year after year it's becoming increasingly difficult, because I'm getting older, also.
“I was not able to catch my chance last year. This year I was … Again, it's possible only because I have been physically strong and I have been mentally strong.”
After a wild forehand caught the tape, Wawrinka was quickly staring down three break points in the opening set. A netted backhand slice soon surrendered the break for 2-4 and with the Swiss off the pace, Nadal’s confidence was only growing as he closed to within a game of the first set with a backhand volley winner.
In a bruising exchange, Nadal had the Swiss on a string, dragging him continuously wider on the backhand before finally drawing the short reply to bring up a set point. Another loose forehand error from Wawrinka sealed the set. If he was going to hassle the Spaniard from here, he would have to seriously raise his level.
Nadal’s only blip came in the opening game of the second set, when he was handed a time violation. Wawrinka had no reason to thank chair umpire Pascal Maria, however, as it only served to add more spark to Nadal’s cause. He broke to love when the Swiss impatiently slapped a forehand into the net and by now he was in full flight, whipping an off-forehand winner on the line to hold for 3-0.
This Philippe-Chatrier Court crowd wanted a match, but no amount of rousing support for Wawrinka would stem the flow of games against him. This just wasn’t to be his day.
When he scrambled to keep a point alive, he earned two cracks at passing. When his forehand sailed wide, it handed Nadal two set points, prompting a racquet demolition from the Swiss; the mangled frame finished off when the Swiss snapped it over his knee. It summed up his set, really.
Nadal closed to within six games of La Decima with a body-jamming serve and if Wawrinka’s wheels were already wobbling, they had all but fallen off when Nadal broke with an off-forehand winner to open the third set. The No.3 seed desperately tried to ignite his competitive fire when he threw his arms in the air to rally the crowd after gliding to flick a backhand past Nadal at net.
The roars followed but to little avail. He surrendered the double break, bludgeoning a forehand well long for 1-4 and the Spaniard’s day of brilliance was completed two games later. A mistimed drop-shot attempt from Wawrinka sent Nadal sprawling on to his back, arms splayed.
It is the third time Nadal has claimed the Roland-Garros title without dropping a set. He previously did so in 2008 and 2010. Both times he went on to win Wimbledon. It is an ominous warning.