King of Clay, Rafael Nadal wins remarkable 12th French Open title

Rafael Nadal has cemented his reputation and legacy at the French Open year after year, duel after duel, rout after rout. And he added another layer of mortar on Sunday by holding off Dominic Thiem, 6-3, 5-7, 6-1, 6-1, to win his 12th title at Roland Garros.

It was the second consecutive year Nadal had beaten Thiem in the French Open final. Nadal is now 12-0 in finals at this event, and he has only lost twice at the tournament: in the fourth round in 2009 to Robin Soderling and in the quarterfinals in 2015 to Novak Djokovic.

Other than that, it has been “Vamos Rafa!” The former French star Fabrice Santoro began his postmatch interview with Nadal on Sunday by reeling off all the years he had prevailed in Paris: “2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014 2017, 2018 and 2019.”

It was more mantra than question, and well before Santoro finished, Nadal was scratching the back of his head and looking a little uncomfortable. But then such moments are his own fault for enduring and dominating beyond any reasonable expectation.

Nadal is the first player in any era to win 12 singles titles at the same Grand Slam tournament, breaking his tie with Margaret Court, the Australian who won the Australian Championships (which later became the Australian Open) 11 times between 1960 and 1973.

“Unreal,” Thiem said of Nadal’s record at Roland Garros. “I’m seriously sad to lose, but you’re such an amazing champion.”

The only tennis runs that bear much resemblance to Nadal’s are Court’s record, and Martina Navratilova’s stretch of dominance at Wimbledon, where she won nine titles between 1978 and 1990. And Court played in an era when the Australian championships often failed to attract all the world’s best players.

And perhaps nothing in tennis ever will truly compare, although Nadal, a man who runs on doubt, is skeptical.

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