Players honour Nadal's Paris feats

Novak Djokovic, Carlos Alcaraz and Iga Swiatek join chorus of tributes to the 14-time champion

Rafael Nadal, practice, Roland-Garros 2024©️Loic Wacziak / FFT
 - Dan Imhoff

Roland-Garros’ most decorated figure, Rafael Nadal, has left the door slightly ajar for a Porte d’Auteuil return beyond 2024.

Should he have tapped the clay from his boots on Court Philippe-Chatrier for the last time, however, players have paid tribute to his legacy at his most successful major, where his trophy haul stands unparalleled.

Spain did not have to wait long for a successor to the 22-time major winner after Carlos Alcaraz burst through with two Grand Slam titles in two years.

The third seed joked there was no part of him that would have enjoyed facing off against his unseeded idol at the opening hurdle in Paris this year and singled out two matches outside Nadal’s 14 finals as his finest memories of his compatriot’s greatest battles.

Carlos Alcaraz Rafael Nadal Madrid 2022©Antoine Couvercelle / FFT

“This is difficult. Every time I hear that he has won this tournament, I remember especially the semi-final, I think 2013 against Djokovic. It was an epic match,” Alcaraz told of the four-hour, 37-minute clash, which Nadal claimed en route to his eighth crown.

“[Also] the final of 2022 [which Nadal won in four sets]. I saw it with a special feeling, let's say. I'm going to choose those two.

“I want to enjoy his tennis [and] obviously everything comes to an end, but honestly, I don't want to see him retiring soon or playing his last tournaments,” he added.

Carlos Alcaraz, Rafael Nadal, Roland Garros 2022, practice May 20© Clément Mahoudeau/FFT

Nadal’s greatest rival on clay and the only man to beat him twice in Paris, world No.1 Novak Djokovic, deemed facing the Spaniard on Court Philippe-Chatrier as the “paramount challenge” in tennis.

Djokovic, who owns a 30-29 edge in their head-to-head, but 2-8 at Roland-Garros, described him as his most important rival.

“It's probably one of the biggest challenges that you can have in the tennis tour, playing Rafa at Roland Garros… You have sometimes when he's really in the zone and in the groove, not making many errors. You feel like he's impenetrable. He's like a wall,” Djokovic said.

“He's an incredible athlete. The tenacity and intensity he brings on the court, particularly [at Roland-Garros], is something that was very rarely seen I think in the history of this sport.”

Daniil Medvedev, has experienced the Spaniard’s relentless will to win in a Grand Slam final first-hand, having twice been denied by him in five sets.

Nadal inflicted heartache from two sets down when he picked up his 22nd major at the 2023 Australian Open and while the two have never squared off on the terre battue in Paris, Medvedev delivered a reminder the 37-year-old was not merely the product of discipline and hard work.

“Sometimes people forget he has a lot of talent in his hands also,” Medvedev said.

“We were warming up serves and then he did three in a row – volley, dropshots, banana ones, like with a backspin – and it was funny. We were saying, ‘Yeah, no talent, just hard work (smiling)’.

“It's tough to play him. He has the capability to spin the ball not like other players, get these high balls especially on clay, is not easy. Then we go to where he fights for every point, he brings intensity to every point. You know you're going to be tired, you know it's going to be tough. It's not easy.”

Italian Jannik Sinner replaced Nadal as Australian Open champion in January and held a strong chance of becoming the new world No.1 this fortnight, something the Spaniard first achieved in August 2008.

Given the 15-year age gap between the pair, it stood to reason Sinner had taken plenty on board from their three showdowns – all on clay, including two straight-sets defeats at Roland-Garros 2020 and 2021.

Rafael Nadal, Daniil Medvedev, practice, Roland-Garros 2024©Philippe Montigny / FFT

“Here is tough to play against [him]. I think everyone would agree on that. But for me it was very good, because it's one point, especially when I was younger, to see where I have to improve... I think it's all about trying to understand what makes you a better player, not only tennis-wise but also physically and mentally. He's for sure the biggest inspiration we have in our sport, no?

“Maybe not the only in our sport but… I consider myself lucky that I'm here, that I can still see him, in the locker-room or in the players' restaurant, or seeing him practice with the passion he has, it's amazing.”

Nadal Sinner Roland-Garros 2021©Corinne Dubreuil / FFT

Such is Nadal’s longevity among the upper echelons and the breadth of his impact on burgeoning players that women’s world No.1 Iga Swiatek frequently cites him as her greatest inspiration for turning professional.

The Pole, who unabashedly idolised the man from Mallorca growing up, once admitted to being too starstruck to speak much to him beyond a few nervous words on their respective runs to Roland-Garros crowns in 2020.

“I would say I never really looked up to anybody except Rafa… Rafa was the only athlete that when I was younger who motivated me to actually try to be the best tennis player possible,” Swiatek told

“His hard work and these matches where he showed his determination when everybody thought he was going to lose but then he won anyway because he didn't give up, I think it just struck me that you know it's actually possible, that you should always try.”

Iga Swiatek, Rafael Nadal, entraînement, Roland-Garros 2022, 19/05/2022©Nicolas Gouhier / FFT

A then 18-year-old Coco Gauff enjoyed a breakout run to her maiden Grand Slam final in Paris two years ago, a run during which she was caught off-guard at how humble Nadal was on her way back to the locker-room.

Her feat on the terre battue had not gone unnoticed on the 14-time champion, who like her had featured in finals in Paris as a teenager.

“I was walking down the stairs, he was walking up the stairs and I think I just won my match and I don’t know where he was going, but he wished me congratulations for winning my match,” the third seed told

“But I didn't say thank you until I was, like, all the way down the stairs because I was really in shock that he was speaking to me.”

Gael Monfils could be considered an unlucky peer of the Spaniard.

A wildly gifted contender of the same age, there were big expectations on the Frenchman’s shoulders only for the likes of Nadal to frequently play spoiler.

Of the pair’s 16 meetings [14-2 to Nadal] Monfils never faced his adversary at his home Slam but paid the ultimate tribute.

“I think Rafael Nadal is Roland-Garros, we have to say it,” he said. “He's the ultmate warrior that we all played against, we all see his achievements, he's just a legend of the sport.”

Gael Monfils, practice, Roland Garros 2024©Clément Mahoudeau / FFT