French Connection: Appreciating Rafael Nadal’s 11 Roland Garros titles

Eleven French Open capsules created by Matt Fitzgerald; residue of text, before and after, created by Ed McGrogan. All photos from Getty Images.


While many of us spent a commencement of Mar brushing adult on college basketball or Marie Kondo-ing a closets, Roger Federer sparked fun among his romantic fanbase by winning his 100th career ATP tournament.

The 37-year-old’s towering haul, that began 18 years ago during a now-defunct Milan Indoors, needs no offer reason in sequence to interpretation a excellence. But for some additional context, and to stir your friends: Federer won his 100 titles opposite 19 opposite countries; he warranted 20 of those titles nonetheless losing a singular set; and he degraded 50 opposite opponents in final rounds. It usually felt like Andy Roddick was a runner-up any time. (Only 7 times, in 4 opposite countries, and 4 times in true sets.)

Thirty-one opposite tournaments are represented among Federer’s 100 titles. In Dubai, where Federer owns property, he’s been a champion 8 times. In Basel, where Federer grew up, he’s been winning 9 times—the same series of times he’s won Halle, where a travel bears his name. These fast-court venues, along with Wimbledon, that Federer has won 8 times, have slowed down tennis’ once-rapid aging routine by showcasing the veteran star’s startling longevity.

“Winning titles is not easy,” pronounced Federer after winning his 100th. “You have to be fit on many fronts: mentally, physically, and your diversion has to translate. You have to be means to kick opposite forms of players—not usually a grinders, not usually a large servers, not usually a aggressive players. You have to be means to kick them all in unbroken days.”

Federer’s century symbol is one of a many unusual accomplishments in tennis history, a Bordeaux-like mix of peculiarity and quantity. The usually present-day allied that comes to mind is Rafael Nadal’s 11 titles during Roland Garros.


2005 French Open

May 23: a staid expert takes No. 1 Court for a first—and last—time during Roland Garros, in his entrance opposite Lars Burgsmuller. A sleeveless shirt and bandit pants impersonate Rafael Nadal’s teenage style, nonetheless a Spaniard commands a strategic, absolute participation good over his years. Nadal would boot Burgsmuller in true sets, and in turn, ushered in a new epoch of clay-court tennis. On his 19th birthday, Nadal upstaged Roger Federer in a semifinals before claiming his initial Grand Slam pretension over Mariano Puerta, completing a stellar open that enclosed titles in Monte Carlo, Rome and Barcelona to go with a 24-match clay-court win streak.

Most Impressive win: Semifinals; Nadal d. Federer, 6-3, 4-6, 6-4, 6-3
They had met before, trade victories in Miami (2004-05), nonetheless a bulk of this impulse was distant greater, with both seeking to strech their initial French Open final. Top-ranked Federer non-stop a 3-1 lead in a fourth set before Nadal ran off a final 5 games to win a initial of many Grand Slam meetings to come.

Closest call: Final; Nadal d. Puerta, 6-7 (6), 6-3, 6-1, 7-5
Playing for his initial Slam title, Nadal was already in unknown territory: associate left-hander Puerta won a tiebreaker to put Nadal in a one-set necessity for a initial time. Nadal saved 3 set points with Puerta portion during 5-4 in a fourth set, and relied on his implausible instincts and unconstrained appetite to turn a initial teen given Pete Sampras (1990 US Open) to lift a vital singles trophy.

2006 French Open

A opposite kind of vigour surrounds a actor when entering an eventuality as fortifying champion. When we haven’t mislaid on a aspect in 53 matches, any challenger yearns to be ‘the one’ who ends your reign. Nadal positively felt a combined weight on his shoulders and in his legs during a Paris vital in 2006. Counterpunchers Paul-Henri Mathieu and Lleyton Hewitt supposing durations of annoy for a second seed to decipher, and those practice would boost Nadal in his rematch with Federer. Nadal quickly put Federer’s exquisite start in a pretension compare behind him, improving his widespread run on a red mud to 60 matches.

Most considerable win: Third round; Nadal d. Mathieu, 5-7, 6-4, 6-4, 6-4
From a feisty Frenchman to a picturesque banana peel, all was thrown Nadal’s proceed on a initial day of his 20s. Mathieu, a former youth champion, played yank of fight with a birthday child for 4 hours and 53 minutes–93 of those in a initial set alone. By a end, Nadal’s pointing and accumulation sloping a scale to overcome Mathieu’s complicated attack and home-crowd advantage.

Closest call: Final; Nadal d. Federer, 1-6, 6-1, 6-4, 7-6 (3)
Four weeks prior, Nadal edged Federer to win an present classical final in Rome. Aiming to be a initial male given Rod Laver to reason all 4 vital titles simultaneously, Federer came out blazing with pinpoint accuracy, nonetheless Nadal pounced on a Maestro’s drop in form to take control. A probable fifth set loomed when Federer pennyless for 5-5 in a fourth, solely Nadal had skeleton to finish essay this chapter, putting coop to paper with a autocratic tiebreak opening for his sixth feat in 7 meetings with a Swiss.

2007 French Open

Nadal was still a definite favorite in Paris–but no longer hold a pretension of invincible–after Federer finished Rafa’s 81-match win strain on clay in Hamburg. That detriment would infer to be zero nonetheless a cut on Nadal’s unblemished resume. One by one, any competition was swept aside, and Nadal modernized to a final nonetheless surrender a set for a initial time. Another strife of a titans with Federer shortly followed; when it was over, Nadal entered a record books by fasten Bjorn Borg as a usually male to win 3 French Open titles in a quarrel given 1914.

Most considerable win: Semifinals; Nadal d. Djokovic, 7-5, 6-4, 6-2
Novak Djokovic was a budding star–and one of Nadal’s earlier-season conquerors in a conspicuous run to a Miami crown. Nadal took their subsequent confront in Rome and replicated that same management during Roland Garros, never vouchsafing Djokovic settle into his initial Grand Slam semifinal with a 48 percent success rate opposite a Serbian’s serve.

Closest call: Final; Nadal d. Federer, 6-3, 4-6, 6-3, 6-4
Act III saw opposite tract points carried out between Nadal and Federer nonetheless resolved with a same finish scene: a four-set victory. Federer hoped securing his initial clay-court win over Nadal would foreshadow a flip of a Paris script. On this day, Nadal came adult purchase when he was pressured, saving 16 of a 17 mangle points he faced (including all 10 in a opening set) en lane to his fifth pretension of a year.

2008 French Open

What word describes Nadal’s mood during a climax valuables of a clay deteriorate in 2008? Hangry. For a initial time in Paris, Nadal entered on a behind of defeat, carrying left down to countryman Juan Carlos Ferrero in his Rome opener. Was his Roland Garros run vulnerable? That doubt was answered with a resounding no. With Rome resolutely in Nadal’s rear-view mirror, he showed no leniency, ravenous any challenger in his pathway. Surrendering usually 41 games over 21 sets, this was Nadal’s many widespread fortnight by distant and cemented his moniker as a King Of Clay.

Most considerable win: Final; Nadal d. Federer, 6-1, 6-3, 6-0
Ruthless all contest long, Nadal saved his unequivocally best for last. Passing shot lasers, baseline necromancy and solid portion were all dialed adult to a max in a clinical opening where Hurricane Rafa handed Federer a misfortune Grand Slam better of his career. Nadal equaled Borg’s Open Era record of 4 uninterrupted French Open titles and furthered his explain as a best in a world, after substantiated after toppling Federer in a 2008 Wimbledon final in what many tour a biggest compare of all time.

Closest call: Semifinals; Nadal d. Djokovic, 6-4, 6-2, 7-6 (3)
No actor was means to win a set off Nadal. In fact, 2008 Australian Open champion Djokovic was a usually aspirant to force a tiebreaker after Nadal unsuccessful to offer out their semifinal during 5-4 in a third set. Unfazed, Nadal raced out to a 6-0 lead and hermetic his fourth compare indicate with an beyond personality for his 27th true Roland Garros victory.

2010 French Open

Hello from a outside. This was new turf for Nadal, carrying suffered his initial Roland Garros better during a hands of Robin Soderling a year earlier. With a sobriety of an undefeated record no longer pulling Nadal down, a four-time titlist flew in tour control many like he did dual years earlier. He wasn’t utterly as bloody in these 21 sets, nonetheless his passion still burnt ferociously, environment glow to a sleet of 2009. Nadal tripped adult Soderling with his defensive aptitude to retrieve his throne, as good as a No. 1 ranking from Federer.

Most considerable win: Final; Nadal d. Soderling, 6-4, 6-2, 6-4
There was amplified expectation for this final, nonetheless Nadal finished certain his rematch with Soderling was a biased affair. Not wanting story to repeat itself, Nadal was challenging in chasing any shot. His scrambling seeped underneath Soderling’s skin, and his seamless transition from invulnerability to offense minimized a big-hitting Swede’s ability to play on a terms that propelled him to feat a before year. Nadal constructed a new record: a initial to brush a 4 principal clay-court titles in Monte Carlo, Madrid, Rome and Paris.

Closest call: Quarterfinals; Nadal d. Almagro, 7-6 (2), 7-6 (3), 6-4
Nicolas Almagro, an glorious clay-courter himself, took a set off Nadal in their progressing Madrid semifinal. That outcome supposing a associate Spaniard a jar of certainty he lacked when mustering a singular diversion in any set opposite Nadal in a same Roland Garros theatre dual years prior. Almagro non-stop with a discerning mangle advantage, nonetheless Nadal found his balance shortly thereafter, and was a sturdier of a dual men in a moments that mattered.

2011 French Open

Nadal’s tour towards relating Borg’s vital miracle in Paris would need transparent self-assurance in his game. He was on a losing finish of 4 finals in 2011, all opposite a volatile Djokovic, who arrived in Paris with a 37-0 deteriorate start. Nadal’s excursion this fortnight began with his longest French Open first-round match, a four-hour exam from John Isner and finished with assembly a revived Federer. As Federer’s final forehand sailed long, Nadal forsaken to his knees, now in Borg’s association with 6 Roland Garros trophies and a newest member a double-digit vital club.

Most considerable win: Final; Nadal d. Federer, 7-5, 7-6 (3), 5-7, 6-1
Federer was roving high, carrying finished Djokovic’s ideal deteriorate in a semifinals, and postulated that faith to start a championship clash. With Federer portion during 5-2, Nadal proceeded to lean off 7 true games, saving a set indicate in a process, and would open a hard-fought dual set, 4-2 lead. Federer finished one final stand, digging his heels in to waylay a third set. Like he’s demonstrated so often, Nadal strike a reset button, punishing brief balls and sketch errors from his undone enemy to win a initial vital final between dual group holding Career Grand Slams.

Closest call: First round; Nadal d. Isner, 6-4, 6-7 (2), 6-7 (2), 6-2, 6-4
Nadal had never played a five-setter during a French Open, until now. Despite an inability to mangle Nadal’s serve, it was Isner who stepped adult to a image to seize dual true tiebreakers. Remarkably, a universe No. 1 responded by winning a fourth set nonetheless renowned an spontaneous blunder and wore down a American in classical Nadal fashion.

2012 French Open

Since hoisting a La Coupe des Mousquetaires a before year, Nadal abruptly found himself personification second fiddle to Djokovic. The Serb outfoxed Nadal in a subsequent 3 vital finals, culminating with a longest lean a Grand Slam final had ever witnessed during a Australian Open. A lapse to a red mud rested Nadal, gnawing a movement of 7 unbroken waste to Djokovic (all finals) in Monte Carlo. Nadal won again in Rome to set a theatre for Paris, and it was no warn to see a span accommodate on championship Sunday. With story on a line for both men, Nadal valid Court Philippe Chatrier was still his kingdom, apropos a tournament’s Open Era men’s pretension leader.

Most considerable win: Final; Nadal d. Djokovic, 6-4, 6-3, 2-6, 7-5
Nadal generated important routs over Juan Monaco in a turn of 16 and David Ferrer in a semifinals, nonetheless clearing a mental separator by vanquishing Djokovic on a Grand Slam final theatre was many compelling. A seventh pretension seemed good within reach, however Djokovic—playing with zero to remove after going down dual sets and 2-0—ascended with strong charge to explain a subsequent 8 games. A second sleet check pushed play to Monday, and when a players returned, it was advantage Nadal. The second seed immediately pennyless back, and his execution for a generation was a nick above Djokovic, who eventually double-faulted to finish his bid.

Closest call: Final; Nadal d. Djokovic, 6-4, 6-3, 2-6, 7-5
It took 21 sets for someone to get a best of Nadal. For Djokovic, a third set was demonstrative of a audacious, noisy play that guided him to a tip of a ATP rankings and a shot during capturing 4 uninterrupted Grand Slam titles.

2013 French Open

Stade Roland Garros was a final place Nadal means exultation in 2012, as a left-knee damage sidelined him for 7 months following Wimbledon. His lapse was scarcely note-perfect; he came to Paris on a 15-match win streak. The three-time fortifying titlist was shortly pulpy by doubtful possibilities he was personification for a initial time, Daniel Brands and Martin Klizan, before his knee sat for a final hearing in an fascinating semifinal with Djokovic. Like a fighting match, any traded blows and battled behind from large bruising until Djokovic had endured enough, and Nadal eliminated that punishing panache to an despotic final opening opposite Ferrer. On that Jun 9th, Nadal became a initial men’s actor in a Open Era to win a same vital contest 8 times.

Most considerable win: Semifinals; Nadal d. Djokovic, 6-4, 3-6, 6-1, 6-7 (3), 9-7
Popcorn was popping for this one. Djokovic was a one male who kick Nadal in a European clay pitch (Monte Carlo final) and Nadal responded with 20 uninterrupted wins. Reminiscent of their 2012 Melbourne epic, this collision brought copiousness of ‘suffering’ by a exhausting exchanges, marvellous scrambling and tract twists that tugged during both hearts eternally pouring out any unit of passion on a court. Resembling dual marathon leaders, a dual pushed forward—and after 4 hours and 37 minutes, it was Nadal who reached a finish line first.

Closest call: Semifinals; Nadal d. Djokovic, 6-4, 3-6, 6-1, 6-7 (3), 9-7
Nadal was 6 points from exiting. An infinite miscue by Djokovic would change everything. Serving during 4-3, deuce, a Serb put divided an beyond nonetheless stumbled, touching a net to concur a point. The consequences were monumental, as his lead shortly evaporated and he found himself portion from behind.

2014 French Open

Nadal’s leadup to Roland Garros was his many vibrated to date. The universe No. 1 was dumbfounded by countrymen Ferrer and Almagro in clay tune-ups, afterwards regrouped to delight in Madrid over Kei Nishikori before being outclassed by Djokovic in a Rome final. For a many part, that didn’t matter. It took a quarterfinal rematch with Ferrer for Nadal to knowledge tension. After quashing Andy Murray with ease, Nadal faced off opposite Djokovic for a third year running. The customary didn’t strike a benchmark of a before year, with Djokovic regrettably double-faulting to interpretation matters. The Nadal dynasty pennyless a tie with Max Decugis for an all-time record ninth French Open title.

Most considerable win: Semifinals; Nadal d. Murray, 6-3, 6-2, 6-1
Three weeks progressing in Rome, Murray collected a opening set 6-1 off Nadal. No one likely a Brit would usually assemble a same series of games opposite 3 sets in Paris. Nadal refused to let adult from start to finish, reprimanding Murray’s pacifist play with a fusillade of attacks. He was aggressively accurate with 24 winners to 12 spontaneous errors in a one-hour-and-40-minute rout.

Closest call: Final; Nadal d. Djokovic, 3-6, 7-5, 6-2, 6-4
Djokovic brought a 35-0 record in finals when winning a initial set, so when he sealed adult a opening set over Nadal, many wondered if this was finally his time to gleam in Paris. He afterwards erased a 4-2 necessity in a second set, nonetheless was incompetent to force a tiebreaker. Nadal destroyed a down-the-line forehand personality to turn a compare and defended a hotter palm for a infancy of a second half, improving his towering widen to 66 wins in 67 matches during a event.

2017 French Open

Three years private from his final vital title, Nadal was during final behind as a challenging favorite. The Spaniard picked adult hardware in Monte Carlo, Barcelona and Madrid to put his competitors on notice, and incited behind a time by a time he stepped onto Court Suzanne Lenglen for his first-round compare with Benoit Paire. This was his homecoming, his emancipation, his testimony. Nadal privileged any jump with pretentious momentum, gaining quickness down a lane as he sprinted past means clay-courters Dominic Thiem and Stan Wawrinka to bind La Decima, his 10th French Open trophy. With a title, Nadal upheld Pete Sampras for solitary possession of second place on a all-time vital pretension list with 15 triumphs.

Most considerable win: Final; Nadal d. Wawrinka, 6-2, 6-3, 6-1
Wawrinka was no foreigner to showcasing his best tennis on energetic track courts, that enclosed wins over Nadal in a 2014 Australian Open final and 2015 Rome quarterfinals, and opposite Djokovic in dual Grand Slam finals–the 2015 French Open and 2016 US Open. There would be no responses to Nadal this time around, other than conduct turns and racquet claps. The renowned clay highbrow put on his latest masterclass in deflating a unsure Swiss to turn a initial actor in a Open Era to win a singular Grand Slam eventuality 10 times.

Closest call: Semifinals; Nadal d. Thiem, 6-3, 6-4, 6-0
Just 3 players managed to win 4 games in a set during Nadal’s 2017 run. Robin Haase posted a many altogether games with 8 in his third-round loss, nonetheless Thiem was approaching to yield a many stronger plea after holding down Nadal in a Rome quarterfinals.

2018 French Open

Away for scarcely 3 months, Nadal’s calm in nursing a fibre of injuries paid dividends. Lifting crowns during 3 of a 4 European clay events he entered, Paris was feeling a clarity of déjà vu when Nadal rolled into town. Much like a year before, Nadal found small insurgency as he finished his proceed into a second week. A piquant Diego Schwartzman compulsory Nadal to work for his place in a semifinals by taking–and finishing– full, intrepid cuts. After that, Nadal finished a required repairs to make his 11th title, floating past Juan Martin del Potro and Thiem to boost his vital transport to 17 trophies.

Most considerable win: Final; Nadal d. Thiem, 6-4, 6-3, 6-2
Different round, same story. Thiem was a usually actor to better Nadal on a mud a past dual seasons. But translating that success to best-of-five was a opposite animal, arguably a many formidable to conquer. The Austrian had a year to cruise about his 2017 Paris semifinal dispersion to Nadal, and while enhancements towering him to No. 4 in a world, Rafa protracted his talent by promulgation him behind to a sketch house with nonetheless another clinical display.

Closest call: Quarterfinals; Nadal d. Schwartzman, 4-6, 6-3, 6-2, 6-2
A fusillade of 20 winners from a 5’7’’ Schwartzman gave a Argentine a many deserved one-set lead. Rain played a pivotal role, twice in Nadal’s favor, in redirecting a arena of this match. Resuming from 3-2 down in a second set, Nadal pennyless and won 3 true games before play was dangling for good. The following day, a howling Nadal dismissed on all cylinders, safeguarding offer and determining justice positioning, to finish off Schwartzman.


Maybe it’s since of a double-digit volume, or that it should be some-more formidable to win such a physically fatiguing Grand Slam as one ages. (Nadal, who turns 33 in June, has won his final dual Roland Garros finals in true sets.) Maybe it’s since no actor is some-more identifiable with a contest than a Spaniard and a French Open. But a bulk of Rafa’s record feels usually as poignant as Roger’s achievement, if not some-more so. Nadal, who has won 81 titles, and Novak Djokovic, who has won 74, have picturesque chances to strech 100. If anyone has a shot to win 11 French Opens, we’ve substantially nonetheless to see them play in Paris.

Which leads me to this question: is Nadal’s unequaled success during one contest some-more considerable than Federer’s success during all of them?

Now, before we collect your side, or boot this as a staged quarrel to rile adult a Roger and Rafa camps, tour these facts:


“I don’t like to contend it,” pronounced Nadal, after a drama-free win over Dominic Thiem in final year’s final, “but it’s something that is unequivocally unique, something that we can’t dream of, winning 11 times a same tournament.”

In a comparison that usually serves to poke holes in unblemished résumés, we offer this compromise: Federer’s fulfilment is some-more considerable overall, nonetheless no one component of it is some-more considerable than Nadal’s feat during Roland Garros. It parallels a longstanding Roger-Rafa narrative: Federer has some-more Grand Slam titles than Nadal, nonetheless Nadal has a higher head-to-head record opposite Federer.

I chose to prominence Nadal’s record during Roland Garros since his success on clay is still seen as a fait accompli—which, of course, it isn’t. If anything, we’re under-appreciating what he’s done. The same should be pronounced for Federer’s tour-wide success. In this year’s Indian Wells final, Federer was “stunned” by Thiem, according to many outlets. Thiem is a Top 5 actor and 12 years younger than Federer. As verbs go, it was an spontaneous error.

As we proceed another fortnight in Paris, and a twilight of dual iconic careers, let’s interpretation Roger and Rafa, regardless of your fandom. May they continue to dazzle us nonetheless again. 


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