Rafael Nadal clinched a record 13th French Open title last week after defeating Novak Djokovic in the final. The Spaniard went the entire tournament without dropping a single set, making it the record fourth time he has done so at Roland Garros.
Given Nadal’s quality and track record on clay, his triumph at the 2020 French Open may not seem like an extraordinary feat at first glance. But in reality, the 34-year-old's run this year was far from normal.
Rafael Nadal was faced with the most adverse conditions imaginable in Paris given that the tournament was held in September-October rather than the usual May-June. The cold fall weather, coupled with the new balls being debuted at the tournament this year, seemed designed to blunt all of Nadal's claycourt strengths.
Many experts believed the Mallorcan would be greatly affected by these conditions, with some even tipping Novak Djokovic as the title favorite. But Rafael Nadal proved all the doubters wrong with arguably his finest claycourt performance in the final.
In that context, Mats Wilander recently heaped special praise on Rafael Nadal’s magnificent feat at Roland Garros 2020. Speaking to L’Equipe, the three-time French Open champion asserted that Nadal can't be brushed off as a claycourt bully anymore given how he triumphed in non-claycourt-like conditions this year.
People sometimes belittle Rafael Nadal’s position in the GOAT debate: Mats Wilander
Rafael Nadal has won 20 Grand Slam titles overall, out of which 13 have come at Roland Garros. This skew towards one tournament has occasionally prompted questions about Nadal's versatility, and about his ability to dominate outside the high-bouncing conditions he usually thrives in.
"In the famous GOAT debate, some people sometimes belittle Nadal's position because of his predominance on clay,” Wilander said.
But this year at the French Open, the conditions were decidedly not in Rafael Nadal’s favor. The sun and warmth that usually enhance the effect of Nadal’s topspin-heavy groundstrokes were totally absent, and instead the air around Court Philippe Chatrier was damp and heavy - thus reducing the bounce of the ball off the court.
The ball kept considerably lower throughout the tournament, something that Novak Djokovic complained about too. The difference was even more palpable for Nadal during the late evening sessions or with a closed roof, as they are both factors that increase humidity.
But Rafael Nadal fought past all of these adversities to tie Roger Federer's record tally of 20 Slams in blistering fashion. Mats Wilander believes that the Mallorcan has strengthened his claim to be called the GOAT by clinching his 13th title in Paris under such detrimental conditions.
“But by winning under these conditions this year, with clay so heavy he sent a strong message," Wilander added. "He said: 'Hey guys, you see I don't need the ball to bounce that high. I don't need 30 degrees, I just need a tennis court to win a Grand Slam'."Published 18 Oct 2020, 14:37 IST