More specifically, winning a 20th grand slam title to equal pal and fellow “Big Three” member Roger Federer’s men’s all-time record.
Nadal sunk to his knees after an ace on championship point in what was a surprisingly lopsided conclusion to the fortnight.
But this is indeed Nadal on clay. He said the tournament’s new balls and cool weather don’t favor his spin heavy game — the coronavirus pandemic prompted organizers to move the event from its usual late May start — but the 34-year-old Spaniard overcame the different conditions to tally a 13th Roland Garros crown and 100th win in southwest Paris.
“I do not think today about the 20th to equal Roger on this great number,” he said as he addressed the crowd. “For me this is just a Roland Garros victory. Roland Garros means everything to me.
“I spent here the most important moments, or most of the most important moments in my tennis career, no doubt about that. Just to play here is a true inspiration and the love story I have with this city and with this court is unforgettable.”
Later, in his news conference, though, Nadal did reflect on tying the Swiss’ mark.
“I am just excited and of course is something that means a lot to me,” he said. “At the same time share this record between us, that we had an amazing rivalry for such a long time, is something in some way beautiful I really believe. Let’s see what is going on.”
Federer was quick to congratulate Nadal on Twitter.
“Therefore it is a true honor for me to congratulate him on his 20th grand slam victory. It is especially amazing that he has now won Roland Garros an incredible 13 times, which is one of the greatest achievements in sport.”
Nadal elevated his game to oust his conqueror in his lone warmup tournament, Diego Schwartzman, in the semifinals before stepping it up another notch Sunday, which led to huge praise from Djokovic.
‘All the superlatives you can use’
“I admire all his achievements,” Djokovic, one of only two players to top Nadal at the French Open, said. “Especially the one here. It’s a stunning score and results and records that he’s got on this court.
“Winning 13 times, yeah, there’s not much you can say. All the superlatives you can use, he deserves them.”
Nadal compiled a healthy 31 winners to only 14 unforced errors to hand the 17-time grand slam winner the worst loss in any of his 27 grand slam finals. He stopped Djokovic, too, from becoming the first man in the Open Era to win each of the majors at least twice.
The most prolific rivalry in men’s tennis now stands at 29-27 to Djokovic.
Nadal has never lost a French Open final but Djokovic certainly presented danger.
He had won their last three grand slam matches and they were huge blows to Nadal — including in the quarterfinals at Roland Garros five years ago.
Djokovic dealt with neck and shoulder issues in his rematch with Carreno Busta on Wednesday and one couldn’t help but wonder if something was bothering the world No. 1 again.
Rare 6-0 loss
He lost a set 6-0 at a major for only the fourth time in his grand slam career according to website Tennis Abstract and even though Djokovic has used the drop shot extensively on the clay, he attempted an eye-catching four in the first game alone.
His unforced error tally soared to 52.
But Djokovic said nothing was amiss while the drop shots were a tactic to try to disrupt his foe’s rhythm.
“Everything was okay,” he said. “I was ready for this match. It’s just that I was overplayed. I was beaten by a guy who was just perfect today. Especially the first two sets. That’s all there is to it. I will not absolutely find any other justification for this loss.”
He was broken from 40-15 in the opening game to give Nadal the best possible start in front of the limited number of fans in attendance. They were capped at 1,000 because of the ongoing pandemic, with tennis players now used to competing behind closed doors or in front of small numbers.
Nadal skipped the US Open due to virus concerns and to prepare for the French Open.
“I don’t forget how tough is the situation in the world,” he said. “I just really hope that the situation improves very soon.”
The finalists exchanged several extended rallies that saw both well outside the doubles lines, Nadal habitually coming out on top.
After the second set ended, it was clear Djokovic wouldn’t be the first man in 83 tries to come back from two sets down against Nadal at Roland Garros, and an inevitable break resulted at 2-2 in the third.
However, it wasn’t straight forward from there.
Nadal was broken for the first time and Djokovic got the crowd going with his emphatic celebration.
It kickstarted a brief renaissance as he went ahead 4-3.
Djokovic was now moving better and launching himself into shots though Nadal met the challenge and yelled “come on” to hold for 4-4. Finally, it was a contest.
Djokovic fended off a break point thanks to a gutsy second serve, backhand combination, but cracked at 5-5 on a double fault wide.
Nadal then served it out to love, capping the historic contest with the ace out wide.
“One month and a half ago, if you told me you’re going to have this trophy with you again, I will say, ‘This year will probably be too difficult,'” said Nadal. “In the sport, the life change quick.”
But at the French Open, Nadal has been a constant in his greatness.