Let me confess I'm a great fan of Swiss tennis star Roger Federer, and would have much rather written about him than anyone else. But the sweeping manner in which Rafael Nadal won the Men's Single title clash at the French Open on Sunday, making a name for himself in the history books of the game, was way too tempting for any sports
enthusiast to ignore. The Spaniard beat Swiss player Stan Wawrinka
at Roland Garros
in straight sets 6-2, 6-3 and 6-1.
In the process, Nadal became the first tennis player ever to win one of the Grand Slam
events for a 10th time. The victory also took his overall number of Grand Slam
wins to 15.
With this, the Spaniard toppled former great Pete Sampras to become second on the list of all-time Grand Slam
winners, just three behind Swiss tennis megastar Roger Federer's 18.
Why winning a French Open is hard
There are solid reasons that make achieving 'La Decima' (the 10th in English) at the French Open a superlative feat.
The slow clay surface, the windy open conditions inside the stadium and the disruptions due to inclement weather — the French Open is the only major tournament without a retractable roof on its main court — all make it a devil of a tournament to string together seven straight wins.
Even former legends like Arthur Ashe, Boris Becker, Jimmy Connors, Stefan Edberg, John Newcombe, and Pete Sampras were unsuccessful in mastering the tiresome clay surface. All of them missed their career Grand Slam
only because they were never able to conquer Garros.
Why he is the best
This game is demanding and challenging because it is a tough physical sport in which injuries are a part and parcel. Nadal's problems with his knees and foot have been well documented but his ability to disregard his excruciating pain and win 10 French Open titles in a span of 12 years is exceptional.
I remember, as a 17-year-old Nadal was in 2003 forced to withdraw from what should have been his first Roland Garros
win, due to a wrist injury. But the Spaniard has effectively worked on his problematic niggles that have forced him to stay away from major tennis tournaments so far.
Here is a 31-year-old who has earned himself a name with a 'La Decima' at the French, proving without a doubt, and against all odds, that he is several cuts above one-hit wonders at the Roland Garros.
The fact that Nadal has won other five Grand Slams on grass and hard courts only substantiate his prowess and claim to fame in the history of tennis.
What Federer has to say
Nadal's influence and superiority over Federer grew with every meeting of the pair during three compelling finals between 2006 and 2008. Watching the usually stoic Federer kick the red dirt away in frustration and despair was evidence enough of Nadal's hold over his great rival.
Earlier this year, the Swiss had even admitted that Nadal's authority on clay gave him the edge in other tournaments. He said, "Rafa has presented me with the biggest challenge in the game."
The game of tennis is as much mental as it is physical. Some would argue the former takes precedence. Other champions would not have been able to keep their head above water with the challenge set before them year after year - but not Nadal.
Doing a La Decima at the Garros isn't a cake walk by any stretch of the imagination. It's a great achievement -- one that seems rare to be equalled or surpassed for generations to come.