Spanish NBA veteran Pau Gasol believes Rafael Nadal’s unprecedented 10 Roland Garros title wins is on par with some of the greatest achievements in all of sport.
The San Antonio Spurs center is a good friend of Nadal’s and has attended more than one of his finals in Paris including Sunday’s three-set win over Stan Wawrinka that gave him a historic 10th French Open trophy.
“I think it’s ranked really high because it’s something that’s never been done in the world of tennis,” Gasol told Sport360 at Roland Garros.
“I think it’s something extremely remarkable that could be compared to the greatest achievements of any other, probably, athlete in any other sport.
“I’m just very very proud of Rafa, the way he’s playing again, it’s just fun to watch. It’s really a joy and a privilege to watch him play this sport.”
Gasol was also present at the 2013 and 2011 finals of Roland Garros and says he had no doubt his compatriot would secure his ‘Decima’ on Sunday.
“I was not nervous, I was very confident that Rafa was going to win, in a pretty comfortable manner as he did, the way he was playing till today, and he continued today even more, he was dominating, just incredible,” said Gasol.
The 36-year-old believes Nadal can keep dominating for the rest of the season.
“If he continues at this level – it’s not easy of course winning Grand Slams, but today he won, and he has options at Wimbledon. He’s the best player on the circuit this year and has chances there. He can take advantage of these moments,” said Gasol.
Rafael Nadal became the first-ever man, and second player in history, to claim 10 titles at the same Grand Slam as he secured a dream ‘Decima’ with victory over Stan Wawrinka in the French Open final on Sunday.
The Spaniard ended a three-year Grand Slam title drought with a 6-2, 6-3, 6-1 win over the third-seeded Wawrinka and will return to the No2 spot in the rankings for the first time since October 2014.
The victory gave Nadal his 15th major trophy and he has now taken sole possession of the second spot on the all-time list of men’s Grand Slam titles won.
The upper grandstand was covered in large banners with the words ‘Bravo Rafa’, as the Spaniard received the trophy. They also played a video on the screens in the stadium with highlights from all his 10 wins.
“The feeling that I have here is impossible to describe, difficult to compare to other places. For me the nerves, the adrenaline that I feel when I play in this court is impossible to compare to other feelings. It’s the most important event in my career without a doubt,” an emotional Nadal told Cedric Pioline on court after the win.
In warm, sunny 30-degree weather, Nadal and Wawrinka walked onto Court Philippe Chatrier to huge roars.
Ahead of the final Nicole Kidman presented the trophy to the crowd, encased in a Louis Vuitton trunk.
Nadal sent out a serious signal of intent when he held his first service game at love. If anyone was curious to see if he was nervous to start the final step in his quest for the ‘Decima’, the Spaniard did a good job of not showing.
Wawrinka too held his first service game easily and it was the Swiss who got his hands on the first break point of the match, in game three, with an overhead smash. It was saved with a service winner, to the Wawrinka backhand. An ace from Nadal came at opportune moment – it was just his 15th of the entire tournament, and he went on to hold for 2-1.
It was Nadal’s turn to get a break points – in fact he got four of them, but Wawrinka saved all of them valiantly to hold for 2-2. Only four games were played but 24 minutes had already passed since the start of the final.
Wawrinka fell behind 0-40 in game six and Nadal got the first break of the match for a 4-2 lead by producing some cool angles and swiftly changing the direction of the ball.
‘Rafa, te quiero’, yelled a male fan from the crowd.
A sensational backhand volley gave Nadal a 5-2 advantage.
A series of punishing forehands gave Nadal his first set point on the Wawrinka serve and the Spaniard did not hesitate to convert as he leapt to a one-set lead in 42 minutes.
Nadal got his first time violation of the match in the first service game of the second set, but he was unfazed and held for 1-0.
The nine-time champion was mercilessly sending one punishing forehand after the other and Wawrinka could barely even get a racquet on one of them as he went down 0-40.
The crowd cheered loudly, in attempt to lift Wawrinka, hoping to see a more competitive contest, but Nadal broke at love to open up a 2-0 gap.
Nadal easily consolidated his break for 3-0. After dropping seven games in a row, Wawrinka finally stopped the bleeding to hold in gave four of the second set.
The highlight of the match thus far came in the sixth game as Nadal responded to a Wawrinka backhand with a stunning forehand down the line winner that almost clipped the net post. Nadal wasn’t even looking when he hit it.
Wawrinka still hung on for 2-4.
Nadal got his hands on two set points as a Wawrinka passing shot sailed long. The Swiss obliterated his racquet in frustration and Nadal took a two-set lead with a service winner to edge closer to his dream ‘Decima’.
Nadal broke to start the third and was in control, pulling off smooth volleys and consolidating with ease.
The crowd got behind Wawrinka as he tried to hold in the fifth game but their roars were to no avail as Nadal extended his lead to 4-1.
The match was over two games later as Nadal flung himself to the ground in celebration.
“Congratulations to Rafa. Nothing to say about today. You were just too good. Its always an honour for me to play you – second time in a Slam final,” Wawrinka told Nadal on court.
“She is young and reckless, in a sense. She’s not afraid of anything. She’s a big hitter. She’s a baby, but she’s a beautiful baby. The way she hits is fascinating.”
Those were Timea Bacsinszky’s words describing Jelena Ostapenko after she lost to the 20-year-old in the Roland Garros semi-finals.
Ostapenko’s sheer power and carefree shot-making has mystified her opponents on her way to the Roland Garros title.
Entering the tournament as the world No47, Ostapenko had never won a tour-level title, had never won a match at the French Open, and never featured in the second week of a Grand Slam.
Her three-set win over No3 seed Simona Halep in the final on Saturday has changed all that.
Becoming Latvia’s first-ever Grand Slam champion, Ostapenko blasted through the draw, taking out reigning Olympic champion Monica Puig, ex-US Open winner and 2010 French Open runner-up Sam Stosur, ex-world No1 and former US Open runner-up Caroline Wozniacki, and finally two-time Roland Garros finalist Halep.
Ostapenko, who turned 20 four days ago, almost came out of nowhere and left a lasting impression on everyone who has set eyes on her.
The legendary Martina Navratilova told Ostapenko’s coach Anabel Medina that the strokes of the young power-hitter remind her of those of Lindsay Davenport.
Darren Cahill, Halep’s coach, said of Ostapenko: “When she’s hot you don’t touch the ball, you become a spectator.”
The freshly-crowned French Open champion hit 299 winners over seven matches this fortnight. Her last point of the tournament was a bullet of a return winner down the line.
“I still cannot believe I won the title, because my dream came true. So, yeah, I was just trying to go for shots when I could and match point. And I was just, ‘Okay, I have nothing to lose, I’m just going to hit winner’. Or if I miss, okay, I have another one,” said Ostapenko of that last shot that secured her the title.
She was down 4-6, 0-3 against Halep in the final, and again down 1-3 in the decider, but came back to take the trophy.
“I’m surprised,” said her mother, Jelena Jakoleva, with a smile after the final.
Ostapenko had been coached by her mother all her life but she added Medina to her coaching team at the start of the clay season. It is a partnership that has paid immediate dividends.
“There are no words for that,” Medina said of her charge’s unexpected comeback against Halep.
“I knew she can hit that hard, but I am really surprised how she handled the two weeks, the pressure, the situations in every match. She lost the first set in many of her matches but she kept working and was very hungry, she wanted to win. Even when she made the quarter-finals she was happy but not excited. It wasn’t okay to be where she was, she wanted more.”
Ostapenko made history in more ways than one on Saturday. She became the first major winner from her country, the first unseeded women’s champion at Roland Garros since 1933, the youngest women’s Grand Slam champion since Maria Sharapova at the 2006 US Open… the list is quite extensive.
“I heard some stories that I made a lot of history here and for my country and for the tournament also but I’m just really happy to play here,” said an unfazed Ostapenko.
“The president already called my mom. I think I expect a lot of attention from Latvia because I made history and it’s a big day today for me.”
The former Wimbledon junior champion speaks the same way she plays. Energetically, but in short, rapid, successive sentences.
Medina describes her as “hyperactive” and her mother says she was a handful when she was young.
“She was the same when she was a kid, it was very difficult. She was dancing, swimming, playing tennis, football… so many things,” said Jakoleva.
The combination of power and “recklessness” as Bacsinszky said made Ostapenko an unstoppable force in Paris.
The young Latvian says she is just as daring off the court.
“I’m also a bit like an extreme person,” said Ostapenko.
“I like extreme things and probably that’s why I play aggressive tennis. I like for example to go on crazy roller coasters or to jump like sky jumps, I like those kind of things. When I was in Auckland I really wanted to jump from the tower but my mom didn’t really want me to do this because she thought it’s dangerous but I’ll maybe do it next year.”
Huge congrats to @anabelmedina , has a lot of credit for this title. Amazing work w Ostapenko and an even better person.— Bruno Soares (@BrunoSoares82) June 10, 2017
But where does all that firepower come from?
“I think I’m really powerful and I was just born with that power probably. Of course I’m working in the gym and stuff but I think I was just born like this,” she says with a smile.
Ostapenko grew up competing in ballroom dancing alongside her tennis and only fully devoted herself to the latter when she was 15 years old.
Till this day, she practices ballroom dancing four times a week when she is at home in Latvia.
“I went to one of her lessons in Riga and I saw her dancing with the teacher, I think it’s something that makes her feel better, she really enjoys doing it, so why not keep going?” says Medina.
After being coached by her mother for so long, what drove them to consider bringing in a fresh set of eyes to help coach Ostapenko?
“It’s very difficult to be the mother and coach all the time. Being together all the time, on court, in the hotel, in breakfast, dinner, lunch, shopping, it’s difficult,” said her mother.
During the first week, Jakoleva watched her daughter’s matches from home and even when she flew in to Paris, she followed her fourth round against Stosur and quarter-finals against Wozniacki on TV in her hotel.
“I think Jelena has more focus if I am not in the stands,” admitted Jakoleva.
She was able to perform with or without her mother in the stands.
Medina is impressed the most by Ostapenko’s self-belief and it’s evident in how she navigated those two weeks.
“I think if I have really good day and I’m hitting really well, I think anything is possible,” is how the 20-year-old puts it simply.
She certainly proved that in Paris!