Rafael Nadal equalled Roger Federer’s all-time mark of 20 Grand Slam titles by winning his 13th French Open with an exhibition of clay-court tennis against great rival Novak Djokovic on Sunday.
Nadal moved level with the Swiss great for the first time in their long careers with a majestic 6-0 6-2 7-5 victory over the world No 1.
Nadal hit 31 winners and made only 14 unforced errors, leaving Djokovic, who had been hoping to become the first man in the Open Era to lift every Grand Slam trophy at least twice, unable to find any answers.
Rafael Nadal 4 (2008, 2010, 2017, 2020 – French Open)
Bjorn Borg 3 (1976 Wimbledon; 1978, 1980 – French Open)
Roger Federer 2 (2007 Australian Open; 2017 – Wimbledon)
Rain in Paris meant the roof was closed on Court Philippe Chatrier which favoured Djokovic, who once won 38 straight matches indoors. The Serbian carried the confidence of knowing the only match he had not won this year was when he was defaulted at the US Open.
Nadal began the fortnight by claiming the cool and damp conditions, combined with heavier balls, would make this his toughest French Open to win. But he had made light work of it en route to the final, reaching the showpiece occasion in Paris for the sixth time without dropping a set.
And the Spaniard continued his stunning form by breaking in the first game before sweeping to a bagel set with an exhibition of shot-making against his old foe.
Djokovic was not helped by his serve, landing his first delivery just 42 per cent of the time, and simply had no answer to the brilliance of Nadal.
First set stats…
This is the first 6-0 opening set in a French Open final since 2004 when Gaston Gaudio defeated countryman Guillermo Coria 0-6 3-6 6-4 6-1 8-6.
The only other time it happened in the Open Era was 1977 when Guillermo Vilas beat Brian Gottfried 6-0 6-3 6-0.
In a virtuoso display, Nadal had the upper hand knowing he was 111-0 when he won the first set of a best-of-five match on clay.
Djokovic is one of only two men, along with Robin Soderling, to have beaten Nadal on the Parisian clay but the Spaniard was making him work his socks off just to hold his own serve.
It took him 55 minutes to do so in the opening game of the second set, saving three break points. But that was as good as things got for the top seed as the king of Roland Garros re-established control by winning the next five games to clinch the set 6-2 – making just six unforced errors over two sets – to move within one of an historic milestone.
Djokovic knew he had to play flawless tennis in the third set, and although Nadal’s game dropped off slightly from the heights of the first couple of sets, the 34-year-old appeared to take control by breaking down a deflated Djokovic in the fifth game. The Serb showed some of his old fighting spirit to strike back immediately in his 10th return game before unleashing a loud roar in the process.
Some more relentless returning from Nadal eventually opened up a break-point chance in the 11th game, which was handed to him on a plate following a double fault. The Spaniard served out the contest, clinching it with an ace, before falling to his knees on the red dirt in celebration.
Federer was quick to pay tribute to Nadal, saying on Twitter: “I have always had the utmost respect for my friend Rafa as a person and as a champion. As my greatest rival over many years, I believe we have pushed each other to become better players.
“Therefore, it is a true honour for me to congratulate him on his 20th Grand Slam victory. It is especially amazing that he has now won Roland Garros an incredible 13 times, which is one of the greatest achievements in sport.
“I also congratulate his team because nobody can do this alone. I hope 20 is just another step on the continuing journey for both of us. Well done Rafa. You deserve it.”