Since Rafael Nadal was three years old, his uncle Toni Nadal has been his coach and mentor guiding him to historic success.
So when the Mallorcan stood on Court Philippe Chatrier to celebrate an unprecedented 10th Roland Garros title, it only made sense the French Open organisers would arrange for Toni to be with him there to share that special moment.
Not only is it a milestone triumph for Nadal, it’s also his final year working with Toni, who will end his 28-year partnership with his nephew at the end of this season in order to focus on the Rafa Nadal Academy and finally take a break from traveling the tour.
Toni stepped on Centre Court carrying the Coupe des Mousquetaires and presented it to Nadal in what was an incredibly emotional moment for both of them. The French Open organisers then played a video of all Nadal’s standout moments in the tournament that has defined his career so far.
“People said that Rafael would never win anything, that he was finicky – that I understand – but he has again demonstrated that with effort and dedication you can get things back,” Toni told reporters after the trophy ceremony while fighting back tears.
Nadal himself had doubts about how far he could go.
“In 2005, I thought in 2017 I’d be fishing on my boat in Mallorca. I didn’t really think I’d have such a long career and win so many tournaments,” said the 15-time Grand Slam champion.
“So this video was very special. It showed great moments of my career. And back then, of course, I couldn’t even think a second that this would ever happen to me.”
Throughout Nadal’s life, tennis and family have been intertwined with his uncle Toni playing such a crucial role in his career. Sunday looked and felt no different as the entire Nadal clan watched from the stands as he made more history on the court.
His other uncle, former FC Barcelona football star Miguel Angel, was in attendance and explained why it was such an emotional moment for his brother.
“For Toni, it’s a special day. Without a doubt, Toni has marked Rafael’s career. It’s a complicated day knowing that he has said that he will stop next year,” said ‘The Beast’.
“I believe it’s a difficult day because we cannot imagine that in a year, Rafael will be without Toni.”
Nadal’s comprehensive win over Stan Wawrinka in the French Open final on Sunday was the culmination of a dominant clay season for the Spaniard, who is now back at No2 in the world and has extended his lead at the top of the Race to London.
The 31-year-old has pulled off one comeback from injury after the other – the latest being a wrist problem that forced him to withdraw after his second round at Roland Garros last year, and one which ended his season prematurely last fall.
How does he keep coming back each time?
“Because he has the mentality and he has the motivation to be here,” Toni said simply.
Nadal dropped just 35 games over his seven matches in Paris. He didn’t drop a set and was never tested – if anything, he was more devastating as the tournament progressed, despite his opponents getting tougher in the latter rounds.
Wawrinka described Nadal’s tennis on Sunday as the best he’s ever played on clay but neither the Spaniard, nor Toni, can say that definitively.
“Winning 81 consecutive matches now (like he did in 2006-2007? I don’t know. I think technically he’s now better than before, his backhand has improved a lot over the past few years. His serve, especially his second serve has improved a lot. I think he’s playing at a very good level right now,” explained Toni.
Wawrinka had beaten Nadal on clay once before, but that was in Rome 2015, when the Mallorcan was far from his best.
He was out of solutions against Nadal in the final on Sunday.
“When you play against him, he’s amazing fighter. On clay he’s just tough to play. There is always one ball coming back. There is always spin on the ball. There is always a different bounce that’s what the other player make on that surface. He create a doubt that you cannot have if you want to beat him. And on clay especially, because the way he’s moving, it’s even more difficult,” said the Swiss world No3.
Nadal will have to switch his focus quickly to the grass season as he hopes to recapture his previous form on the surface that saw him reach five Wimbledon finals and win two of them in the past.
“It has been a while since I’ve played well at Wimbledon. It’s true that after 2012 what happened with my knees have been tougher and tougher to compete on grass for me. That’s the reality, no? Let’s see if I’m playing well since the beginning of the season,” said Nadal when asked if he believes he can do well at the All England Club in three weeks’ time.
“I love grass, everybody knows, and it’s a surface that I really enjoyed a lot playing there. And I miss play with Wimbledon again. So I hope that my knees hold well and I can have the preparation that I really need and the preparation that I wanted.
“So if that happens, why not? If I have pain on the knees, then I know from experience that it’s almost impossible. Because I need to feel strong, low, and powerful legs to play well in Wimbledon. If I don’t feel that, then probably my chances are not there, no?
“But if I am healthy and I am able to have the right preparation and feel healthy during the Wimbledon, then probably gonna have my chances to play well.”
It’s difficult to quantify what a 10th French Open title for Rafael Nadal actually means. Eight was impressive, nine was mind-blowing, 10 is… one more than that?
It is by all means an incomprehensible feat – one that has literally left his coach Carlos Moya speechless.
“There are no words to describe this,” Moya said after the final when he was asked to put Nadal’s historic achievement into context.
But if we really want to put a value on this 15th Grand Slam trophy won by Nadal, we should take a look at what it took for him to get there rather than focus on how cool it is to have a nice round figure like 10, of any title.
It had been three years since Nadal had won a major. During that time, he suffered from knee, back and wrist problems, lost his confidence, dropped to as low as No10 in the rankings – that’s bad in his world – had his worst results in over a decade and was written off by many out there.
Last year he walked away from Paris with his wrist wrapped in a blue bandage, his eyes red from emotion after he was forced to pull out ahead of his third round due to injury, at a time when he believed he was finally recovering his best form.
“It was a missed opportunity,” Nadal admitted on Sunday during his press conference, which was a stark contrast to that tearful one he had a year ago to announce his withdrawal from the tournament.
One often wonders how he finds it in himself to go through one comeback after another.
He has had so many injury setbacks but he never stopped trying to bounce back.
His journey over the last 12 months has taken him from vacationing with his girlfriend on a boat trying to forget his woes, to being No1 in the Race to London, No2 in the world, with a 10th Roland Garros trophy in tow.
That is why this No10 is special, that is why his uncle Toni came down to the court to hand him the trophy – it is their last year touring together – and that is why he had broken into tears after his victory.
Nadal was asked if the last three years felt too long having not been able to add another major to his tally.
“We cannot reduce our sport to four tournaments per year. That’s the real thing. For me, winning Monte Carlo means a lot, then Barcelona, then Madrid in front of my crowd. So I enjoyed all these things and all these titles are so important for me,” the Spaniard said.
“Yeah, today is more special, true. Win the 10th Roland Garros is something unique and different is true. And I am very happy and emotional, but I cannot think all the time about Slams. For me, every week is a different story and every week is beautiful event, and I enjoy playing tennis every week.”
It is that mentality that keeps him coming back. Nadal loves the process as much as he loves the result.
He was asked if he will feel freer for the rest of the season now that he’s finally won a 15th major. He quickly reminded us that he has “doubts every day”, and that he will feel under pressure in a week’s time when he is preparing for the grass tournament in Queen’s.
That kind of hunger and level of competitiveness cannot be taught.
For Nadal, tennis is simple. You train, you enjoy it, you fight, you win, you repeat.
We should expect to see more of that for the rest of the season.
It seems all you need is to have your birthday during the French Open and you have a great chance of winning:), congrats Rafa and Jelena!— Martina Navratilova (@Martina) June 11, 2017
He lost 35 games in the entire tournament ...... I'm pretty sure I've lost my car keys 35 times this year .....— andyroddick (@andyroddick) June 11, 2017
10 ...... 10 ....... 10 ..... you can say it as much as you want. It's so not normal. Huge respect for @RafaelNadal .. pleasure to watch— andyroddick (@andyroddick) June 11, 2017
Histórico e irrepetible, @RafaelNadal.— Juan M. del Potro (@delpotrojuan) June 11, 2017
Sólo queda 👏👏👏
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.