"Nine… I know I was good. But Wow ... this kid really is something. Happy for him," said Bjorn Borg at the prize-giving ceremony of French Open 2014.
Of course, the ‘kid’ he was referring to is Rafael Nadal – owner of 14 Grand Slam titles including a record nine French Opens – and he is still just 28 years old.
But as we watched him grind his way – the tennis in the final was never spectacular… Djokovic was ailing and Nadal, himself, had a troubled back to contend with – to another Grand Slam title with a typically determined performance, his record gave rise to one question and one question alone: How many French Open’s will Nadal eventually win?
Ten for sure, 15 a possibility and it all depends on his fitness. The opposition just doesn't seem to matter -- for almost 10 years, with the exception of Robin Soderling, it hasn't. It almost seems like Nadal doesn't even need his 'A' game to win and when he does find his best game, the opponent, as Andy Murray found out in the semis is demolished.
The win over Djokovic made it his ninth title in 10 years. His record at the clay court Grand Slam is a staggering 66-1. In best-of-five matches on clay, his win-loss record stands at 90-1. The title also took his career clay court singles title tally to 45 – second in the all-time list, just one behind Guillermo Vilas.
What makes his French Open dominance even more spectacular is that in 8 out of 9 title runs, Rafa has beaten Djokovic (6 times) and Roger Federer (5 times) en route. So the titles have come against the best; perhaps against the best of all time. Between them, the trio has claimed 35 of the last 40 Grand Slams.
He has been around for so long and still no one has been able to break down his game on clay courts. That in itself is a feat in international tennis.
All this and he is still a kid.
Coming into the final though, Nadal was a bout of nerves. He had lost his last four matches to Djokovic, including the final of the Monte Carlo masters. The Serbian, it seemed, had found a way to beat him on clay and that way went through the Spaniard's forehand.
In the first set, Djokovic stuck to the plan. The forehand is Nadal’s most dangerous weapon – he often runs around his backhand to unleash fast, top-spinning forehands but Djokovic had seen that if he could exert consistent pressure, then it was prone to a breakdown.
And that is what happened in the first set. A total of 12 errors on his forehand side (6 forced and 6 unforced) saw him go down 3-6. Then, slowly, his forehand started to fire – in the second set – he had 11 winners from his forehand as compared to 6 errors.
That set gave him in the momentum. By the time the third set came along, Djokovic looked weary – he was no longer chasing down each and every ball as we have so often seen him do. He staged a brief recovery in the fourth set but never quite managed to raise it to a level that could threaten Nadal.
In the end, it was an emotional victory.
“There are many emotions,” Nadal said, admitting that the loss to Stan Wawrinka in the Australian Open a few months ago weighed him down. “Of course I can always accept a loss, but a loss is something that travels with you during this long journey, you see, during our long careers.
“There are weeks sometimes, you know, when one has the feeling that one is losing more matches than winning matches; therefore, a loss is some type of company which lingers, if I can say. But then I knew I was well prepared. I was ready. I played well. Even though I was missing some energy for a few months, I was so motivated. I had a lot of energy within me, and this helped considerably.”
Next up will be the quest for La Decima.
For years, Spain was focused on Real Madrid’s journey towards their 10th European Cup title – La Decima -- and it took them 12 years to get from the ninth title to the tenth. But, one can say with certainty that the country won’t have to wait that long for Nadal’s 10th French Open title. All in all, not bad for a kid.
Updated Date: Jun 10, 2014 11:39:08 IST