Nadal's 13 French Open Titles Part Twelve - 2019

Leading up to the 2022 French Open, which begins on May 22, this series takes you through Rafael Nadal's 13 French Open titles, which is also the most number of times a player has won a particular Major.

Rafael Nadal broke Margaret Court's all-time record of winning a single Major the most number of times by clinching his 12th French Open title in 2019.

Clay is arguably the most demanding surface in tennis. The points do not usually finish as early on clay as on hard courts and grass, and it tests a player physically and mentally. With experience, a player's  mental aspect could get fortifed, but the demands on the body are unforgiving. Add to that a game like Rafael Nadal’s, which involves retrieving from corner to corner, mostly from behind the baseline, and you have the recipe for a very punishing career path.

Even Nadal, the king of clay, is not immune to the ravages of time. Hence, what the Spaniard achieved at the 2019 French Open is jaw dropping. 

On June 9, 2019, 33-year-old Nadal won his 12th title at Roland Garros. The number also meant that he surpassed Margaret Court for the all-time record of winning a single Major the most number of times.

Nadal’s clay-court season prior to 2019 French Open

The year started with Nadal withdrawing from the warm-up event in Brisbane due to a thigh strain before a glorious run to his fifth Australian Open final. In the summit clash, Serbian World No. 1 Novak Djokovic thrashed the Mallorcan in straight sets.

It was followed by an early exit in Acapulco, where he squandered three match-points in a second-round loss to Australian Nick Kyrgios. After the loss, Nadal had criticised Kyrgios’ attitude on court. “I don't think he's a bad guy, not at all. I think he's a good guy, but what he lacks is a little respect for the public, for his rival, and also for himself. I think he should improve that. Today we have to say congratulations, he was good and he won," he said after the match.

Nadal’s hard-court season ended abruptly when he pulled out of his semifinal against Switzerland’s Roger Federer in Indian Wells due to a right hip injury.

After being out of action for a month, Nadal started his clay court season in Monte Carlo, a place where he had lifted the winner’s trophy 11 times. However, his pursuit of a 12th title was stopped in the semifinal by Italy's Fabio Fognini in straight sets — 4-6, 2-6 in an hour and 36 minutes.

Here's a compilation of Rafael Nadal's 13 French Open Titles

Nadal's 13 French Open Titles by Sportstar Online

Nadal described the loss as one of his worst matches on clay in 14 years.The following week, Nadal bowed out of Barcelona at the same stage, this time losing to Dominic Thiem. In their first meeting on clay since the 2018 Roland Garros final, the Austrian triumphed 6-4, 6-4.

Nadal completed a rare hat-trick of losing in clay semifinals when he went down to Stefanos Tsitsipas in Madrid. The Greek player broke Nadal three times in the opening set. The Spaniard won the second set, but Tsitsipas held his nerve to clinch the decider and seal his first win over Nadal in four meetings.

READ: Nadal's 13 French Open Titles Part Eleven - 2018

Before 2019, only once had Nadal entered the French Open without winning a title in at least one of the lead-up tournaments in Monte Carlo, Barcelona, Madrid and Rome. This had happened in 2015.

 

The Mallorcan made sure that 2019 wasn’t a 2015 repeat as he found his rhythm in the Italian capital dropping just 13 games on his way to the final. In the summit clash, his 50th Masters 1000 final, Nadal began perfectly as he bagelled Djokovic in the opening set. The Serbian did well to clinch the second set, but having played two gruelling three-setters in the previous two rounds cost him as he faded away in the third, which Nadal won 6-1.

2019 French Open

Eleven-time champion Nadal was seeded second at the 2019 French Open, the 100th clay-court tournament of his career. He got his campaign for a record-extending twelfth title up and running with a straight sets win over German qualifier Yannick Hanfmann in the opening round.

Second round. Another German qualifier named Yannick (Maden). Another breezy win in straight sets for the Spaniard.

FROM THE ARCHIVES: Rafa reigns at Roland Garros for a record 12th time

In their three meetings on clay before the 2019 French Open third round, David Goffin had never taken a set off Nadal, let alone beat him. On May 31, 2019, the 27th-seeded Belgian changed that when after losing the first two sets 6-1, 6-3, he varied his game and succeeded in taking the third 6-4. Nadal regrouped well to seal the tie in the fourth, but it looked like Goffin had shown a hint of what was needed to trouble the Spaniard.

“Pushing Nadal, the 11-time champion in Paris, to a fourth set required a bold patch of play from Goffin, with abrupt changes of pace, fast-twitch defense and drop shots in abundance. His subtle game plan could give others some ideas. It runs counter to the conventional wisdom that the only way to hurt Nadal on clay is to pound the ball to deprive him of time,” wrote Christopher Clarey in The New York Times.

After the blip against Goffin, Nadal cruised to the semifinals with dominating wins over little-known Argentine Juan Ignacio Londero and 2014 US Open Finalist Kei Nishikori of Japan in the fourth round and quarterfinals, respectively.

Nadal and Federer were set to face each other in a French Open semifinal for the first time since 2005, which was their first-ever Grand Slam meeting. At that time, a teenage Nadal, yet to win his first Major, was up against the new force in men’s tennis in a 23-year-old Federer.

Come 2019, it was a 17-time Grand Slam winner Nadal, 33, against a 20-time Grand Slam champion Federer, 38.

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FILE PHOTO: Switzerland's Roger Federer (left) congratulates Spain's Rafael Nadal (right) on his victory in the 2019 French Open semifinal.   -  GETTY IMAGES

 

In what has since been their last French Open duel, Nadal got past the Swiss maestro 6-3, 6-4, 6-2 in two hours 25 minutes in extremely windy conditions. After his loss, Federer said, “He makes you feel uncomfortable the way he defends the court and plays on clay,” while adding, “There is nobody who even plays remotely close to him. I don’t even know who I need to go search for to go practice with somebody who plays like him. I was thinking that during the match. It’s just amazing how he plays from deep and then is able to bounce back and forth from the baseline. It’s just quite interesting.”

For the second year running, Nadal’s opponent in the final was Thiem. The Austrian had made it to the summit clash after a five-set battle against Djokovic which went on for four hours and 13 minutes and had to be completed in two days due to rain interruption.

 

The 2019 final was breathtaking in the first two sets. After losing the opener 3-6, Thiem gave it back to Nadal by winning three games on the trot to take the second 7-5. The next two sets, though, could not have been more one-sided as the Spaniard tore through Thiem’s defenses.

After a 6-3, 7-5, 6-1, 6-1 victory in three hours on the Philippe Chatrier court, the King of Clay lifted the Coupe des Mousquetaires trophy in Paris for the twelfth time.

Rafael Nadal's route to French Open title in 2019

First round: won 6-2, 6-1, 6-3 against Yannick Hanfmann (GER)

Second round: won 6-1, 6-2, 6-4 against Yannick Maden (GER)

Third round: won 6-1, 6-3, 4-6, 6-3 against David Goffin (BEL)

Fourth round: won 6-2, 6-3, 6-3 against Juan Ignacio Londero (ARG)

Quarterfinal: won 6-1, 6-1, 6-3 against Kei Nishikori (JPN)

Semifinal: won 6-3, 6-4, 6-2 against Roger Federer (SUI)

Final: won 6-3, 5-7, 6-1, 6-1 against Dominic Thiem (AUT)

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