The ‘King of Clay’, Rafael Nadal is not only currently in search of a fifth successive French Open title at Roland Garros – the defending champion is hoping to win the Grand Slam a record 14th time.
His campaign kicked off with a straight sets victory over Alexei Popyrin (6-3, 6-2, 7-6), and despite being placed in the same half of the draw against the other ‘big three’ stars of men’s tennis, Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer, the Spaniard is the outright favourite for the men’s singles title once more, on the likes of the Betdaq exchange.
Read on, as we pay homage to the King of Clay and countdown some of his most memorable finals appearances.
2005: vs Mariano Puerta
Where else to start but Nadal’s debut at Roland Garros. He became the first player to win the French Open title at the first attempt, since Mats Wilander in 1982, and was crowned the youngest champion since Michael Chang in 1989.
Nadal overcame two French seeds in the opening rounds: Richard Gasquet and Sebastian Grosjean, before beating the number 1 seed, Federer, in the semi-finals. Unseeded Argentinean Mariano Puerta was his opponent in the final and Nadal came from behind to beat him in four sets.
There’s no denying the Spaniard was the favourite, having won three clay tournaments en route to Roland Garros, but having gone down in the first set, he had it all to do. After breaking in the second set, Nadal ran away with the third and it was plain-sailing from there.
Victory was not only Nadal’s first Grand Slam title, but it also saw him end the clay-season unbeaten in 24 matches. Later that year, Puerta received an eight-year doping ban – marring the highlight of his career, in reaching the French Open final.
2008: vs Roger Federer
Nadal had already beaten Federer in two previous French Open finals, but this one is pick of the bunch – as it marked a fourth successive title at Roland Garros for the King of Clay, and also marked the Federer’s worst loss in a Grand Slam match.
Nadal had a fairly easy run to the quarter-final stage, facing two qualifiers in the early rounds, as well as compatriot Fernando Verdasco in the fourth-round. In the semi-final, he had beaten Djokovic in straight sets to face the world number 1, Federer.
The odds were stacked against the Swiss Maestro who had a 1-8 record against Nadal on his favoured surface, and he proved invincible on this occasion. Not only was Federer stunned, it was an absolute thrashing, which lasted one hour and 48 minutes – with Nadal winning 6-1, 6-3, 6-0, to become the first man since Bjorn Borg to win four successive French Open Grand Slams.
2018: vs Dominic Thiem
Nadal’s 2018 victory over Austrian Thiem marked his 11th Grand Slam title in a single major, equalling the record set by Margaret Court. However, he became the first tennis player to manage the feat in the Open Era. In winning the French Open, the Spaniard also retained his place at the top of the ATP World Ranking.
Nadal had an easy run, beating all his opponents in straight sets – up until the quarter-final stage. There, he came from behind to beat the 11th seed, Argentine Diego Schwartzman, before facing his opponent’s compatriot Juan Martín del Potro.
The first set against Thiem was tense, but from then on, was more of a formality. He was relentless and resilient – and despite going down with cramp in the third set, made it look a breeze out on the clay – winning 6-4, 6-3, 6-2.
On lifting the trophy, Nadal said:
“It’s a dream to win 11 times,”
But of course, he’s gone on to win it twice more since!