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.
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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.”
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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.