Rafa's extra-special 12th triumph

 - Ian Chadband

Spaniard admits difficulties he's faced makes his 12th RG title a real delight.

Rafael Nadal© Nicolas Gouhier / FFT

Rafael Nadal sat with his ever-present companion, the Coupe des Mousquetaires, by his side once again, and declared that the annexation of his 12th Roland-Garros title felt extra-special at the end of what he felt were two of the most trying seasons in his matchless career.

Following his four-set triumph over Dominic Thiem on Court Philippe-Chatrier, the king of Roland-Garros took time to reflect on a troubled period which has included injuries, surgery, tournament withdrawals and surprise dips in form. A champion who is normally the model of positivity even admitted that he had also become too negative of late.

Asked if his problems this year made the triumph feel particularly special, Nadal conceded: “Yes, not only this year - last year was a tough year too.

“I was only able to finish seven tournaments during the whole year. and finished, like, World No.1. Give me a chance to win here last year and in Wimbledon I was very close. The US Open I had to retire, too. So a lot of issues, and then at the end of the season (issues) with the knee. Then I had to do surgery on my foot.

“And this beginning of the season, the level of tennis has been positive, but again, some issues, no? Like in Indian Wells, like Brisbane, like Acapulco, too….too many issues the last 18 months. So that's makes these last few weeks very, very special.

“All the things that I went through probably give me that extra passion when I am playing, because I know I will not be here forever. So I just tried to be positive, to be intense, and to be passionate about what I am doing.”

That unique passion was there for all to behold as he rebounded from the loss of the second set to immediately assume absolute command against Thiem again. “That start of the third set was the key,” he said.

This was a completely different Nadal from the troubled figure who had suffered injury problems in the Spring and was far from his usual self at the start of the clay-court season when he suffered, for him, three unusual misfires as he failed to win in any of his usual bankers at Monte Carlo, Barcelona or Madrid.

“After Indian Wells, mentally I was down. Physically and mentally, but for me I always put more attention on the mental side. Mentally, I lost a little bit that energy, because I had too many issues in a row.

“For me it was so important that I had the right people around me, my team and family. That helps a lot. Honestly, at Monte Carlo and at the beginning of Barcelona things were tough for me because mentally I was not enjoying. I was too much worried about the health and, being honest, too negative.”

Rafael Nadal Roland-Garros 2019©Nicolas Gouhier / FFT

Yet a transformative moment occurred in Barcelona, where he performed poorly in his first match there before scraping a win against Leonardo Mayer.

“I was able to stay alone for a couple of hours in the room and think about what's going on, what I need to do. I had to decide, no? One possibility was to stop for a while and recover my body and the other was to drastically change my attitude and my mentality to play the next couple of weeks.”

Being Rafa, he chose the latter route and reckoned that he had been improving every day since. “The right attitude, the right passion, that's the only way for me to be back where I am today,” he said.

And where he is now is on an 18-Grand Slam pedestal just two below Roger Federer. He’s never been so close to Federer’s mark in his entire career but he’s adamant that he’s not concerned about chasing the Swiss.

“I never tried to think about, well, am I gonna catch Roger or not. Being honest, I am not very worried about this stuff, no? You can't be frustrated all the time because the neighbour has a bigger house than you or a bigger TV or better garden. That's not the way that I see the life.”

Equalling Roger? “Well, it's a motivation, but it's not my obsession. If you ask me whether I would like it, of course; is it a goal in my career, no. It's not what makes me get up every morning or go and train and play. It's not the way in which I view the sport, and it's not the way in which I consider my sports career.

“I want to follow my own journey, give myself the best opportunities, and give myself the possibility of competing at the highest level. And if I end up in a position like that of today where I'm the one who won most Roland-Garros titles in history, well, all very well. 

“But I don't think my future will be worth any more if I equal Federer's record or if I do something like Djokovic or whatever.”

Why would he? 

He remains just Rafa, the greatest we have ever seen on the Paris clay.