Paris: His clay-court prowess as unassailable as ever, Rafael Nadal won his record 10th French Open title by dominating 2015 champion Stan Wawrinka 6-2, 6-3, 6-1 in the final Sunday.
No other man or woman has won 10 championships at the same major in the Open era, which began in 1968.
The 31-year-old Nadal was overwhelmingly good from start to finish against Wawrinka—and over the past two weeks en route to La Decima, Spanish for “10th". Not only did Nadal win every set he played in the tournament, he dropped a total of only 35 games, the second fewest by any man on the way to any title at a Grand Slam tournament in the Open era with all matches being best-of-five-sets.
Along with improving to 10-0 in finals at Roland Garros, Nadal increased his career haul to 15 Grand Slam trophies, breaking a tie with Pete Sampras for second place in the history of men’s tennis, behind only rival Roger Federer’s 18.
It marked a stirring return to the top for Nadal in his favourite event and on his favourite surface: Over his career, he is now 79-2 at the French Open and 102-2 in all best-of-five-set matches on clay.
A year ago in Paris, Nadal surprisingly withdrew before the third round because of a wrist injury, making the announcement at a news conference while wearing a blue brace on his left arm and a look of resignation of his face. He couldn’t bring himself to watch much of the rest of the 2016 French Open, he said, other than some doubles matches involving a good pal, and the singles final.
Finally back to full strength in the off season, Nadal returned to work, reconstructing his forehand and redoubling his efforts to get back to his best.
Well, he sure proved to be precisely that Sunday, when the conditions were exactly to the liking of a guy who grew up on the island of Mallorca. The sun was shining, there was barely a trace of cloud in the bright blue sky and the temperature was about 85 degrees (30 Celsius).
Wawrinka is no slouch; he owns three major titles, including one from Roland Garros, and had never lost a Grand Slam final. But a five-set semifinal win Friday over No. 1-ranked Andy Murray must have taken something out of the 32-year-old from Switzerland, the oldest French Open finalist since 1973. His shots didn’t have their usual verve, his legs their usual spring. After one point Sunday, Wawrinka bent over, leaning one arm on his racket and resting the other on a knee.
Instead of pointing to his right temple, as he often does after key points won, Wawrinka kept rubbing his forehead or running his fingers through his hard after key points lost. When he netted a forehand to close a 14-stroke back-and-forth in the second set, he pounded his strings on his head several times.
Nadal has that way of wearing down opponents. On this day, he was nearly perfect. He won all 12 service games, saving the lone break point he faced, and made a mere 12 unforced errors.
When it ended, Nadal dropped to his back on the clay, then rose and briefly pulled his blue shirt over his face. He was again the champion, again unbeatable at the French Open.