Nadal author of own Roland-Garros legend
Only a few moments in sport are triumphs beyond belief. 'La Decima' is one such. Impossible. Incomprehensible. Real. And that's precisely what Rafael Nadal achieved at Roland-Garros.
Where there is no hope, said the great French writer Albert Camus, one must invent hope. Two years ago Rafael Nadal’s wondrous career was marooned in a desert of repeated injury. Barely six months ago, he had yet to emerge from his latest long lay-off. Hardly anyone could understand how his battered body could recover sufficiently to enable him to challenge for the most glittering prizes once again.
But Nadal invented his own hope. He simply would not lie down, until 24 minutes past five o'clock in the Roland-Garros final of 2017 when he fell prostrate to the Paris clay, floored by history’s kiss. Nine times previously we have seen that celebration on Philippe-Chatrier Court, but this was the stuff of fable. This was ‘La Decima’. Impossible. Incomprehensible. Real.
“Have been magical all the things that happened in this tournament for me,” said Nadal at his post-match press conference, three hours after his triumph. “So very happy for everything. Ten times here already. Today was a very important day for me. Have been some tough moments last times, injuries, so it's great to have big success like this again. Happy because I have been working a lot to be where I am today. It’s a lot of joy.”
Every now and again in sport, you cannot believe what you have seen. That Forehand will go down as one such time. You know the one – the forehand torpedo which Nadal detonated down the line at 4-1 in the second set, slamming the ball into the most distant corner. In itself it was a thing of beauty, but that it was delivered in answer to an exquisite backhand crosscourt strike from Stan Wawrinka earned it a place in tennis folklore. See it once, and be amazed; see it twice, see it a thousand times, and still you can’t trust your own eyes. That Forehand encapsulates the wonder of ‘La Decima’. Nadal has blazed a trail at Roland-Garros which may never be equalled, and for all we know he is not done yet – but he does not presume it is a given.
“I have doubts every day,” he admitted. “The doubts, I think, are good, because they make you work with more intensity, with being more humble, and accepting that you need to keep working hard to improve things. I will have doubts even in a few days, because in tennis every week is a new story and that's part of the beautiful thing of our sport. Life is not that clear. So if you have no doubts probably is because you are too arrogant. I don't consider myself arrogant at all.
“It's true that it is unprecedented. Trust me, I'm very happy that I'm the one who did it. I'm very happy.”
“Am I playing the best tennis of my life? I cannot say yes; I cannot say not. These two weeks have been a great level of tennis, is true. But I already won two Roland-Garros without losing a set before this one. Probably I was playing good, too, no? The only thing that I know is I am playing well now. I am happy. I am enjoying every week, and I want to continue and I will try to keep working hard to try to enjoy more beautiful weeks.
“It has been very special to me, and it's true that it is unprecedented. Trust me, I'm very happy that I'm the one who did it. I'm very happy.”
In these modern times, sport is the nearest we come to myth-making. For centuries, the stories will be told – tales of romance and tragedy, of battles won and wars lost, of achievement and futility, of quests and redemption. Into these pages, Nadal has inscribed his own hallowed chapters, and we who have witnessed the writing of them will not forget what we have seen. The privilege has been entirely ours.
On the tenth time that he received the Coupe des Mousquetaires, Nadal kissed the silver grail and lightly bit the swan handles, as he has so many times before. Time for a rethink on that trophy name, maybe… The Copa del Mosquetero has a certain ring to it.
Just one musketeer, and a Spaniard at that.