What we learned from Roland-Garros 2020 men's event

 - Ravi Ubha

After yet another stunning Nadal title run in Paris, here are some of the biggest takeaways from the men's action at Roland-Garros 2020

Roland Garros 2020, Rafael Nadal, locker room, trophy shoot© Julien Crosnier/FFT

Rafael Nadal has done it!

He tied Roger Federer for the men’s all-time lead in Grand Slam titles on 20 — not to mention collecting his 13th Roland-Garros crown and 100th victory in southwest Paris — by downing Novak Djokovic in the men’s final.

Here’s what we learned from the men’s action, which featured the younger guard breaking through, past champions trying to recapture their glory days — some were more successful than others — and some glorious shot-making.

Different conditions, same result for Rafa

The conditions? Meh.

It was cooler than normal at Roland-Garros, he was playing with new balls and Court Philippe-Chatrier looked a little different, but it had little impact on Nadal — judging by the final result.

Thirteen times he has made it past the quarter-finals and all 13 times the Spaniard has walked away with the Coupe des Mousquetaires.

Not only did he overcome the toughest rival of his career in the final but he downed the man who beat him at the Italian Open last month, Diego Schwartzman, in the semi-finals.

“Rafa is Rafa,” said Schwartzman. “I think he knows how to improve. He knows how to practice, how to do everything. After Rome, he goes straight to practice.”

Beating Nadal at Roland-Garros, as Djokovic suggested on the eve of the final, continues to be the most daunting challenge in tennis.

“This is his house with all the titles he's won,” the Serb said on court Friday following his semi-final.

No one can argue with that.

It ain’t easy backing up a first Slam title

Dominic Thiem claimed his long-awaited first major at the US Open.

Even without winning it in the manner that he did — in a fifth-set tiebreak after coming from two sets down against friend Alexander Zverev — it was always going to be difficult for the popular Austrian to regroup both mentally and physically with the quick two-week turnaround and change of surface.

Lacking clay-court matches and with a tough draw, so it proved. At least a semi-finalist from 2016-2019, Thiem fell in the quarter-finals.

To his enormous credit, though, he extended Diego Schwartzman to five sets and five hours in arguably the match of the tournament.

“I cannot say it was a bad tournament,” Thiem remarked. “I'm pretty happy about it.”

An under-the-weather Zverev exited in the fourth round to Italian teenage debutant Jannik Sinner, the German's earliest Slam departure in 2020.

It’s a long road back for Murray

After Andy Murray upset Zverev ahead of the US Open and engineered a two-set comeback of his own in the first round of the hard-court major against Yoshihito Nishioka, the signs were promising.  

But the Scot, who underwent hip resurfacing surgery last year to save his career — and improve his day-to-day health — found it more difficult in his last two matches.

Murray didn’t earn a break point in a Grand Slam match for the first time since Roland-Garros 2014 against Nadal in losing to Felix Auger-Aliassime at Flushing Meadows and was then crushed by fellow three-time Grand Slam winner Stan Wawrinka in the most anticipated first-round men’s match at Roland-Garros.

He won a mere six games, his fewest in a Slam outing since that same 2014 reverse to Nadal.

“It's going to be difficult for me to play the same level as I did before,” Murray acknowledged. “I'm 33 now and I was ranked No.1 in the world, so it's difficult with all the issues that I have had. But, yeah, I'll keep going.”

Allez, Sir Andy.  

The next batch is coming

You’ve heard of the ‘NextGen?’ How about the ‘BabyGen?’ Okay that might be a stretch but a young quartet made their mark in Paris, led by 19-year-old Sinner.

The calm, big-hitting Italian has been talked about for a while but it was still a remarkable achievement to become the first man to make the quarter-finals on his Roland-Garros debut since…Nadal in 2005.

He was also the youngest men’s Grand Slam quarter-finalist since…Djokovic in Paris in 2006.

Sinner nearly, too, took a set off Nadal in the last eight.

He was joined in the later stages by wild card Hugo Gaston and Sebastian Korda, both 20, and Daniel Altmaier.

Gaston was the last French man standing and pushed Thiem to five pulsating sets in the fourth round in only his second Slam main draw after topping Wawrinka in five.

Korda — the son of Grand Slam champion Petr Korda — qualified and ousted veterans John Isner and Andreas Seppi prior to exiting to his idol, Nadal, in the fourth round.

And Altmaier also reached the fourth round after qualifying and taking out seventh seed Matteo Berrettini. At 22, he would normally be labelled ‘NextGen’ but the raw, flashy German has played far less than his contemporaries due to several significant injuries.

It will be fun to monitor the progress of the four.  

It was autumnal drop shot heaven

If you're a fan of the drop shot, this Roland-Garros was made for you.

Players seemingly used it more than ever before because of the lower bounces stemming from the chillier fall temperatures.

Gaston, a left-hander, and Djokovic may have been the duo who most frequently utilised the finesse shots.

Gaston hit a whopping 55 against Thiem, according to the New York Times, and Thiem subsequently offered up his fair share against Schwartzman.

He even struck four in a row serving at 4-5 in the second set.

Tiebreaks can be loooooong

The third round tiebreak between Italy’s Lorenzo Sonego and Taylor Fritz of the US lasted longer than some sets. It extended to 29 minutes to be exact, with Sonego prevailing 19-17 in a third set to seal the contest.

It was the longest men’s singles tiebreak in Roland-Garros history and the joint second-longest ever in singles in Grand Slam history.

There was bound to be an unusual moment and here was one: Fritz broke not one, but two strings while hitting a first serve down match point.

“It's crazy because I never ever break strings,” said Fritz, who succumbed on a seventh match point.

Lorenzo Sonego, Roland Garros 2020, third round© Nicolas Gouhier/FFT