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Perfect Rafa Nadal Crushes Novak Djokovic To Win His 13th French Open Tennis Title

By Alix Ramsay

A 13th French Open trophy. A 20th grand slam title. A 100th match won at Roland Garros. As Rafa Nadal cradled the Coupe Des Mousquetaires in his arms, holding it with the same love and care as if it were his baby, he had rewritten the history books again.

It seems that every time Nadal comes to Paris, he claims another chapter in those books. When he won his 10th title three years ago, we all though this could not go on much longer. But then he won his 11th. And then his 12th. History walks with Nadal at Roland Garros.

But this year it was different. This time, Nadal played the near-prefect match to beat Novak Djokovic 6-0, 6-2, 7-5. The battle royal that everyone had expected never materialised: Nadal snuffed out any hope the world No.1 had in the first two sets and then, when Djokovic rallied in the third set, Nadal would not be moved. This was brilliance like we had never seen before.

“I don’t have much to say but that I was completely overplayed by Rafa, by the better player on the court,” Djokovic said. “He was not missing at all and getting every ball back, just playing tactically great.

Novak Djokovic holds his runner-up trophy after losing against Rafael Nadal.

“I felt well throughout the entire tournament. I thought I was in a great form. Certainly, I could have played better, especially in the first two sets. But, you know, just he did surprise me with the way he was playing, the quality of tennis he was producing, the level. He’s phenomenal. He played a perfect match, especially in the first two sets. He was the far better player on the court today and absolutely deserved to win.”

Never in his wildest imagination did Nadal believe that all of this was possible. The long-haired kid with the sleeveless shirt and the pirate pants who beat Mariano Puerta in 2005 never dreamt that, 15 years later, he would be crushing one of the greatest players the sport has seen to win his 13th title.

Rafael Nadal victories at the French Open 13th French Open titles
2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2017, 2018, 2019 and 2020

Then again, three weeks ago when he settled into his digs in Paris, he never believed this was possible either. The weather was cold, the court was heavy and damp and he had played just three matches (and lost one of them) since February. He sounded then as if he was talking himself out of the title as he listed his problems.

Nadal, though, has built his success on the idea of suffering. To win, you must suffer, be it on the practice court or in the match. So, cold and wet as it was, he put his head down and simply got on with it. Whatever obstacle that was put in his way, he overcame it. By the time he got to Djokovic, one of the biggest obstacles he has ever faced, he was ready.

From the very first game, Nadal was razor sharp. The focus and the intensity were etched on his face; the forehand was punishing and, more importantly, the backhand was brutal. Djokovic, by contrast looked as tight as a drum. He tried four drop shots in that opening game and won two points with them and from 40-15 up, he was broken.

Rafael Nadal of Spain reacts as he plays Novak Djokovic of Serbia.

When Nadal came to serve, he was pinpoint accurate and devastatingly effective. He set the tone for the rest of the match: he constructed each point with craft and care, he mixed up the pace with spin and power – sometimes the sliced, low backhand; sometimes the loopy, spinny backhand and always the chance to unleash the forehand down the line once he had manoeuvred the Serb out of position.

Djokovic did have his chances – three break points in the fourth game of the match, for example – but he could not take them. It would be almost two hours before he got another opportunity to break even though he is the best returner in the game. This was a stunning display from Nadal and Djokovic was stunned into submission by it for two and a half sets.

Djokovic played better, much better, in the second set. He was serving better; he had stopped faffing about at the back of the court and was now laying into his groundstrokes. But it didn’t make any difference; after 95 minutes, Nadal was two sets to the good and had made just six unforced errors (Djokovic had made 30).

Only in the third set did Nadal’s serve begin to falter and that is when Djokovic pounced. He was already a break down at the time but when he levelled for 3-3, he let out the Djokovic roar for the first time and he encouraged the crowd to get involved. But that only served to refocus Nadal’s mind as the Spaniard served better, defended as if his life depended upon it and then turned that defence into attack. When Djokovic double faulted on break point, the end was nigh. It was all over after two hours and 41 minutes.

With an ace on match point, Nadal sank to his knees with a smile that stretched from ear to ear, one that lit up the court. He had played 183 points to win the title and, of those, he had made only 14 unforced errors. He had won 29 points more than Djokovic; he had taken the first love set from the Serb in a major final (and Djokovic had played 27 of those finals) and he had matched Roger Federer’s record of 20 grand slam titles. No wonder he was smiling.

Rafael Nadal sinks to his knees after winning against Novak Djokovic.

Federer was quick to laud Nadal on social media. Saying that he has always had “utmost respect for my friend Rafa as person and a champion”, he said it was an honour to congratulate him for reaching his 20th grand slam title and for winning a 13th Roland Garros title “which is one of the greatest achievements in sport”. And then he added: “I hope 20 is just another step on the continuing journey for both of us”.

When, at last, he came to speak to the media (only 25 minutes late which is good by Rafa’s standards), he was pressed on his rivalry with Federer and career GOAT-dom. But Nadal is a humble guy and a pragmatist. Federer is his friend and his oldest (in every sense) rival.

Rafael Nadal holds a virtual press conference after winning.

He may beat Federer’s record; Federer may beat his or Djokovic could overtake the pair of them. It does not matter to the champion in the long run but, for now, he is delighted to be standing shoulder to shoulder with his mate and his rival. At the age of 34 and after 16 years of trying, this is the first time he has been Federer’s equal in the record books.

“I never hide,” he said. “I always say the same, that I would love to finish my career being the player with more grand slams. No doubt about that. In terms of these records, of course that I care. I am a big fan of the history of sport in general. I respect a lot that. For me means a lot to share this number with Roger, no?

“But let’s see what’s going on when we finish our careers. We keep playing. I don’t know what can happen in the future. I am just excited and, of course, is something that means a lot to me.

“At the same time, to share this record between us, that we had an amazing rivalry for such a long time, is something in some way beautiful, I really believe.”

Rafael Nadal holds his trophy after winning against Novak Djokovic.

History had been rewritten but Nadal fancied there was still another chapter waiting to be penned.