Speaking to the press after reaching the French Open final, Novak Djokovic referred to the Philippe Chatrier Court as Rafa Nadal’s House and on Sunday, the Spaniard showed him and the world at large, why that particular court is a ‘home’ away from his residence in Mallorca.
Today is just a Roland Garros victory and that means everything to me. This love story I have with this city and this court is unforgettable! Rafa Nadal
The Spaniard, in what was expected to be a clash of the ‘Tennis Titans’, demolished the Serbian world number one 6-0 6-2 7-5 in what must have been the most chastening defeat Djokovic has experienced in his career.
In his quarter-final against Pablo Carrena Busta, Djokovic needed the trainer’s attention on his left shoulder, but he showed no signs of discomfort which might have contributed to this humiliating defeat.
“I was fine. Everything was okay. I was ready for this match. It’s just that I was overplayed,” Djokovic said in his post-match press conference.
“I was beaten by a guy who was just perfect today,” he confirmed.
Nadal has admitted he was not that confident. Even before the Roland Garros got under way, he was pointing out factors which could well prove too much for him,
The new Wilson balls for instance were much heavier and larger than the original Babolat ones which, with the autumnal weather conditions making the courts slower, deaden the bounce on which his game relies on and promotes the drop shot which became the biggest weapon of the fortnight for most players.
Also the decision to play the final under the new retractable Chatrier roof – a new feature of the court – because of the threatening weather many believed would favour Djokovic’s game.
But then Nadal has always worked his way round problems, reaching the final without dropping a set and countering the drop shot moulded game Djokovic was bringing to the final having witnessed the effectiveness of that shot during his previous six matches.
And Djokovic used plenty of them in his opening game on Sunday but Nadal ran most of them down, blunting the Serbian’s weapon and effectively dismantling his game plan, making just two unforced errors in the opening set to hand his opponent a rare sobering ‘bagel’.
It wasn’t until the start of the second set, after 55-minutes of actual play, that Djokovic finally won a game, raising his arms in a victory salute to his fans who no doubt hoped it would spark him into action but there was no let-up by his opponent who was on a roll, focused on keeping him behind the baseline and swinging him about the court.
Finally in the third Djokovic, who was targeting his 18th Grand Slam title, started to make a fight of it, breaking back for 3-3, only to drop serve on a double fault in the 11th game.
A disconsolate Djokovic then watched his rival march on to claim with an ace after two-hours and 41-minutes, his 100th win at Roland Garros and extend his record of French Open titles to 13 as well as match Roger Federer’s record of 20 single Grand Slam titles.
Nadal, on being congratulated on equalling the great Swiss’s record, was humble.
“To win here means everything,” he said. “I don’t think today about the 20th and equal Roger on this great number, today is just a Roland Garros victory and that means everything to me.
“This love story I have with this city and this court is unforgettable!”
Bearing in mind that the French Open was being played out of season (it should have been in May-June) because of the coronavirus pandemic, Nadal used his victory speech to wish everyone hope and safety.
“We are facing one of the worst moments that I think we remember in this world facing and fighting against this virus,” he said through his mask on Eurosport.
“Just keep going, stay positive and all the very best. Together, we will go through this and we will win [against] the virus soon.”
Meanwhile Roger Federer wasn’t slow in sending congratulations on equalling his all-time record of 20 grand slam titles.
“I have always had the utmost respect for my friend Rafa as a person and a champion,” tweeted Federer, who absented himself from the tournament to recover from knee surgery.
“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.
which is one of the greatest achievements in sport. I hope the 20 is just another step on the continuing journey for both of us.”
To which Nadal commented: “I think he’s happy when I’m winning and I’m happy when he’s doing the things well.
“It means a lot the positive relationship that we have together because we have been going through a great rivalry for a very, very long time.”
Djokovic, who had hopes of winning his 18th Grand Slam title, will hope to draw closer to his rivals at the Australian Open in January. Nadal though could well pull ahead of both the Serb and Swiss when the French come round again next May!
In the meantime, Djokovic can only reflect on the result: “Today you showed why you are the King of Clay. Today was a tough match, I was outplayed by a better player.”