COMMENTARY | Whatever happens on Sunday in the championship round, Rafael Nadal has already done something special in 2013.
On Friday, June 7, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic contested a thrilling semifinal on the red clay in Paris.
Edging Djokovic by a score of 6-4, 3-6, 6-1, 6-7 (3), 9-7, Nadal not only punched a ticket to face David Ferrer in the final Sunday, but he also helped produce yet another match that will surely count amongst the greatest in the sport's history.
After five fantastic sets against Djokovic in Paris this year, it is becoming increasingly clear that Nadal's competitive spirit and talent are effective in producing high quality and entertaining tennis.
What's even more amazing is the fact that Nadal has catalyzed such lofty levels in the game on all of the Slam surfaces.
Given everything that Nadal has already achieved in his career, the fact that his game is effective across surfaces shouldn't actually be that much of a surprise. In 2010, Nadal became the first ever male player to win a Grand Slam on each of the three unique surfaces in a single calendar year. He still stands alone with regards to this achievement.
And now Rafa has arguably been involved in the greatest matches played on each of the three unique Slam surfaces in the current era -- grass, hard court and clay.
The Trifecta of Great Matches
Prior to the start of this year's French Open, Nadal and Roger Federer had already contested what many believe to be one of the greatest matches of all time on grass at Wimbledon in 2008.
Then, nearly four years later, Djokovic and Nadal played an epic final at the 2012 Australian Open on hard court. A heavyweight bout in Melbourne that left both players practically toppling to the ground due to exhaustion after its conclusion. With a total court time of 5 hours and 53 minutes, it was hence recorded in history as the longest Grand Slam final by duration.
With those two matches already affixed to his name, Nadal entered Philippe Chatrier court at Roland Garros this year facing the tall task of defeating the world's No.1-ranked player. A player that was appearing in his 12th straight Grand Slam semifinal and one that had beaten Nadal 11 times in their last 16 meetings.
Unlike in Australia, when Djokovic emerged from the ashes with a victory, it was Nadal this time that left the stadium with the bigger smile. The score of 9-7 in the fifth set also eerily matched Nadal's final tally against Federer at Wimbledon in 2008.
Great matches require high stakes and this particular semifinal had plenty. With the win, Djokovic would have been favored to win his first French Open title Sunday and complete the career Grand Slam. Nadal, on the other hand, was looking for the chance to play for his 8th French Open title and 12th overall Slam trophy.
Nadal will now have the chance to continue his quest, but it must be noted that so much has already been won.
For a man commonly known as the "King of Clay," Nadal has put some of best players in history to the test on their own preferred surfaces. And thanks to the inspired play of Mr. Djokovic, the Spaniard has now been given a taste of his own medicine.
There's no doubt that it takes two to tango. Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic, along with their copious amounts of talent and athleticism, were instrumental conspirators in helping make these matches so epic.
However, it seems relatively certain that such heights could never have been reached without Rafa and his unique style of playing every point as if his life depends on it. He forces his opponents to give so much. To "suffer" along with him.
Nadal didn't win all three of the aforementioned matches, but the sport surely won in each and every instance.
Should Nadal win on Sunday his suffering will no doubt have all been worth it. By adding one more Slam he would move into a tie with Roy Emerson at 12 apiece. The only tennis players standing in front of him in regards to Slam titles would then be Roger Federer (17) and Pete Sampras (14).
A win on Sunday would also make Nadal the first man ever to win at least one Grand Slam in nine consecutive years.
Of course, the "greatness" rating for a match is rather subjective, and one could argue that other matches could be included in this list. A top candidate might be the 2009 Australian Open final between Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal that also went five sets and was characterized by plenty of jaw-dropping shots from both sides of the court.
However, that doesn't change the equation much. Nadal was part of that one, too.
Andrew Prochnow is a derivatives trader by day and a tennis buff by night. He is a frequent contributor at the Bleacher Report.
- Sports & Recreation
- Rafael Nadal
- Novak Djokovic
- Roger Federer