Rafael Nadal watched his beloved football club Real Madrid chasing ‘La Decima’ for 12 years before they finally achieved it in 2014.
The club’s and fans’ obsession with winning a 10th European Cup (Champions League) trophy took on a life of its own, and it made it all the more sweeter for Los Blancos and their Madridistas when they ultimately sealed the deal against Atletico Madrid at Estadio da Luz in Lisbon.
On Sunday, Nadal has a chance to secure his own ‘Decima’ at Roland Garros. And while the Spaniard and his entire team have downplayed its significance – “Nine is my favourite number,” he joked on Friday – it will still be a historic feat many fans and pundits are salivating over.
If Nadal defeats Stan Wawrinka in Sunday’s final, he would become the first man ever and second player in history to win 10 or more titles at the same Grand Slam event (only Margaret Court has won 11, at the Australian Open).
The Mallorcan’s last Grand Slam title came three years ago at the 2014 Roland Garros and his bad luck with injuries meant that some people had written him off and never thought he would be in this position again, fighting for a major trophy.
But Nadal this year has silenced his doubters as he reached the Australian Open final in January then won three titles in Monte Carlo, Barcelona and Madrid in the build-up to Paris.
The prospect of him lifting a 10th Coupe des Mousquetaires at Roland Garros on Sunday is described as “outrageous” by former world No1 Lindsay Davenport.
Sigue Rafael Nadal apurando su calentamiento para las semifinales de Roland Garros. pic.twitter.com/gtyakiSGuL— Rafael Plaza (@Rafael_Plaza) June 9, 2017
“It’s so amazing. Just as he’s been gathering momentum all year, the final in Australia, the final in Miami – whenever he plays well on hard court, you’re like watch out on the clay, which is exactly what happened,” Davenport said in Paris earlier this week.
“But I don’t think you can even put into context, it’s so outrageous. I hope it happens purely because of that. I love seeing history being made and for Rafa, and how hard he’s worked, and everything he’s overcome with injuries, I’m like a huge fan. I could be the wrong one to ask but I hope it happens for him because he’s amazing.”
His co-coach Carlos Moya, a champion in Paris 1998, made sure ‘La Decima’ was not discussed within the team, and he struggles to find the words that would give the achievement justice.
“I guess there are no words that haven’t been written already about what that would mean but we don’t want to think about that, we don’t like to think about that,” said Moya. “We just try to go step by step, we feel that there is some extra pressure because it’s Roland Garros and he’s playing well and having good results, but we are trying to forget that and go match by match.”
Nadal has given one impeccable performance after the other throughout the fortnight in Paris, dropping just 29 games over six matches.
He owns a 78-2 win-loss record at Roland Garros and has never lost a final here.
“To win 10 of anything is phenomenal. The frightening thing is that he’s won more titles here than I’ve actually won matches,” jokes 1987 Wimbledon champion Pat Cash.
“He brought something to the game with tennis we’ve never seen before and particularly this Centre Court accentuates those strengths that he’s got, it’s quite phenomenal watching it happen.
“It’s incredibly exciting. To win 10 titles would be phenomenal.”
Active players are also keeping an eye on Nadal’s quest for a mythical 10th. Poland’s Agnieszka Radwanska tipped the Spaniard to pull it off when she spoke to reporters in Paris during the first week of the tournament.
“That’s something for sure unbelievable. I believe he can do it. He’s playing amazing tennis this year on clay, winning all those tournaments on clay already,” said Radwanska.
His opponent in Sunday’s final, Wawrinka, is not daunted by the fact that he will be standing between Nadal and that unprecedented achievement.
“I think to play Rafa on clay in French Open in a final is probably the biggest challenge you can have in tennis. He’s the best player ever on clay. As you say, he’s going for his 10th Roland Garros, so it’s something really impressive, something tough,” said Wawrinka on Friday.
“It’s for sure gonna be really difficult. But again, in the end of the day, it’s the final. The pressure is on both players. No one go on the court thinking he has no pressure. We both want to win the title, and we both gonna give it all on the court.
“He’s for sure gonna be the favourite with what he’s done in the past, but also this season already he’s playing so well. So I will have for sure to play my best tennis. But again, I did in the past, so we will see what’s gonna happen on Sunday.”
We find out on Saturday whether Nadal will do it, or if Wawrinka will claim his own place in history as the first man to ever beat the Mallorcan in a Roland Garros final.
With Rafael Nadal chasing an unprecedented 10th Roland Garros crown, and Stan Wawrinka looking to become the first Swiss to ever win multiple titles at the French Open, history is on the line in Paris on Sunday.
Here are the main talking points and key stats ahead of this blockbuster showdown.
It’s been three years since Nadal has won a Grand Slam title. Within that period, Wawrinka added two more to his tally – at the 2015 French Open and 2016 US Open. Nadal made his first final since the 2014 Roland Garros at the Australian Open last January, and walked away with the runner-up trophy to Roger Federer.
Since the start of 2014, each time Wawrinka has beaten a top-10 player at a Grand Slam, he has gone on to win the title in three of the four occasions this has happened. In 2014 Australian Open, he beat Djokovic (No2), Berdych (No7), then Nadal (No1) back-to-back to win the title. In the 2015 Australian Open, he beat Nishikori (No5) then lost to Djokovic (No1) in the semis. In the 2015 French Open, he beat Federer (No2) then Tsonga (No15) then Djokovic (No1) to win the title. In the 2016 US Open, he beat Nishikori (No7) then Djokovic (No1) to win the title. History shows that he can back up big wins at the majors.
This is not the first time Nadal has cruised to the final without dropping a set but it is the fewest games he’s ever dropped en route to the title match (29 games). Dominic Thiem was meant to be his biggest test of the fortnight – on paper – but the Austrian could not push Nadal to his limits. Some people think the Spaniard is lacking that one big test before the final but in Nadal’s case, the fact that he has spent five hours less on court compared to Wawrinka can only work to his advantage.
The Swiss certainly has the power and the tools, but it’s worth noting that he trails Nadal 1-6 on clay with the only win he has coming in Rome 2015 when Nadal was far from his best. Now that Nadal has recovered his brutal topspin forehand, Wawrinka might have a tough time countering it with his one-handed backhand.
1 – Wawrinka is bidding to become the first Swiss player – man or woman – in history to win Roland Garros on multiple occasions.
2 – If Nadal wins, he’ll rise to No2 in the rankings for the first time since October 2014.
2 – If Wawrinka wins, he’ll reach a career-high ranking of No2.
2 – This is the second Grand Slam final between the pair. Wawrinka won their only previous won in the 2014 Australian Open.
3 – wins for Nadal and 3 for Wawrinka in their last six meetings against each other, since the start of 2014.
3 – Nadal is the third man in history to make 10 appearances in the final at one Grand Slam event after Bill Tilden (10 US Open finals) and Federer (10 Wimbledon finals).
4 – Wawrinka is bidding to become the second man in the Open Era to win his first four Grand Slam finals after Roger Federer, who won his first seven.
5 – times in his career Nadal has made it to the Roland Garros final without dropping a set.
6 – wins for Nadal and one loss against Wawrinka on clay.
7 – Nadal has won seven of his last eight meetings against top-five opponents at the Slams.
10 – Nadal is trying to become the first player in the Open Era and just second in history to win the same Grand Slam 10 times (Margaret Court won 11 Australian Opens).
11 – Wawrinka is trying to post his 11th consecutive match win to extend his career-best winning streak.
15 – Nadal is gunning for a 15 Grand Slam title which would give him sole ownership of the second spot on the men’s all-time list, one clear of Pete Sampras and three behind Federer.
22 – This is Nadal’s 22nd Grand Slam final. He has a 14-7 win-loss record in title matches at the majors.
23 – Nadal leads the tour with 23 wins on clay this season against just one defeat.
26 – five-set wins and 20 losses for Wawrinka after his five-set win over Murray in the semi-finals.
29 – Nadal has dropped just 29 games en route to the final. It’s the second fewest games dropped into a Grand Slam final in the Open Era where the best-of-5 set format has been played.
30+ – Wawrinka and Nadal are the first pair of players aged 30 or over to contest a Roland Garros final since 1969, when 30-year-old Rod Laver defeated 34-year-old Ken Rosewall.
32 – At 32 years and 75 days old, Wawrinka is looking to become the first man in the Open Era to win multiple Roland Garros titles after turning 30.
42 – Nadal leads the tour with 42 wins this season against just six losses.
44 – years since someone as old as Wawrinka has reached the Roland Garros men’s singles final. The Swiss is the oldest French Open finalist since Niki Pilic in 1973.
Jelena Ostapenko became the first-ever Latvian to win a Grand Slam and the youngest woman to claim the Roland Garros singles title in 20 years after she defeated third-seeded Simona Halep in Paris on Saturday.
The 20-year-old Ostapenko, the youngest French Open women’s singles champion since Iva Majoli in 1997, overcame a 4-6, 0-3 deficit to beat Halep and capture the first title of her career.
She’s also the youngest Grand Slam winner since Maria Sharapova won the 2006 US Open, and the first unseeded women’s champion at Roland Garros since 1933.
“I think I cannot believe I’m the Roland Garros champion and I’m only 20 years old. It’s just so amazing to be here,” said Ostapenko in her on-court interview with Marion Bartoli.
Halep missed out on a chance to win her first major and ascend to the No1 ranking for the first time.
It was a break-fest from the start with four of the first six games all going against serve.
The pair finally held and despite pressure from Ostapenko, Halep claimed a crucial game to inch ahead 5-4. Typical ‘SI-MO-NA’ chants naturally followed.
Serving to stay in the set, Ostapenko dazzled with an inside-out forehand winner for 15-15. But Halep upped the ante and drew the error from her Latvian opponent to take the opening set in 37 minutes.
Halep saved a break point in her opening service game of the second then broke on her way to a 3-0 lead. Ostapenko was still painting the lines and firing powerful shots but Halep was able to neutralise her, winning the points that matter the most and was generally untroubled.
Ostapenko was not giving up and she broke Halep in the fifth game to cut her deficit to 2-3.
The young power-player sent a backhand wide the next game to face two break points but hung on and managed to draw level for 3-all. Ostapenko approached the net and found the swing volley that had done so well for her throughout the fortnight as she broke the Halep serve in game seven.
The Latvian’s advantage did not last as Halep broke right back for 4-4.
Halep’s serve let her down and once again, Ostapenko inched forward to put herself in the position to serve for the set.
And indeed she succeeded, leveling the match on her second set point with her 36th winner of the contest to force a decider against Halep.
Halep steadied the ship and broke for a 3-1 gap in the final set but Ostapenko once again pegged her back, pulling off impossible shots like this one.
The 20-year-old got help from the net cord to win her third game in a row to break and she consolidated for a 5-3 lead. And Ostapenko pulled off the comeback of a lifetime, hitting her 54th winner of the match to seal her historic victory in one hour and 59 minutes, denying Halep a first major and the No1 ranking.
“Bonjour everyone, I’d like to start with the crowd, thanks for coming to all the matches this tournament. I’m sad I couldn’t win it but it was a great tournament and a good experience and I really thank you for always coming and supporting me,” said Halep.
“I want to congratulate Jelena, all the credit for what you’re done this tournament, it’s an amazing thing. Enjoy it, you deserve it.
Addressing her team, she added: “It’s a tough day because we didn’t win. But let’s keep working and let’s believe.”