Rafael Nadal re-established his name in the history books last night, as he lifted the Roland Garros trophy for a record 12th time in Paris' Court Philippe Chatrier. In doing so, he became the first player (man or woman) to lift a single Grand Slam title 12 times.
The road to Rafa's win was not always a smooth one as he faced one of the more turbulent phases of his career over the last 18 months. Nadal has spent a majority of the last two seasons changing and adapting to the limitations of his body, as he has withdrawn from over 11 tournaments due to injury since the beginning of 2018.
It began with a psoas problem that led to his retirement from last year's Australian Open and later, knee woes led to his retirement in the semi-final of last year's US Open against Juan Martin del Potro.
After a knee problem, Nadal was set to return to indoor courts in Paris in November but was ruled out once again due to an ankle injury, ending his 2018 season. This meant that the Spaniard would withdraw from 10 tournaments within a year, with injuries in his knees, ankles, stomach and hips.
He made a good comeback in 2019 as he reached the Australian Open final but lost in straight sets to Novak Djokovic. Once again he had to bow out of a semi-final clash at Indian Wells against Roger Federer due to another knee problem, leading to his withdrawal from Miami masters as well.
He then took a 5-week break to work on his knee and returned to the clay circuit without being fully fit. After exits in the semi-final stage in Monte Carlo, Barcelona and Madrid; he entered the Italian Open in Rome, the last Masters 1000 Event before Roland Garros; without a trophy for the first time since 2004.
But the slump did not last long. At an event he has had a lot of success at, he won in Rome convincingly beating French Open favourite Djokovic in the final to set up his chase for a 12th title in Paris.
He entered the tournament as the favourite, but mostly, because he is so dominant at this event, not because of particularly good form. In vintage fashion, he breezed past all his rounds including a semi-final win against familiar foe Federer in straight sets to set up the final against Dominic Thiem.
Thiem put up as good a fight as anyone has against Rafa in Paris, but Nadal reigned supreme 6-3 5-7 6-1 6-1 to lift his record 12th French Open title.
The emotional reaction he displayed at the end of the win is indicative of the struggle Nadal has been through over the last year and a half. But there's something special between Nadal and Roland Garros, as he shows his fabled fighting spirit time and time again to win on the dirt in France no matter what the circumstances.
Speaking after the final, “I've had too many issues, so that makes the last few weeks very, very special.”
His coach Carlos Moya heaped press on the Spanish ace saying he is a “mental genius” and one of the “toughest” competitors out there.
Fans are quick to take Rafa's success at Roland Garros for granted, but to win 12 Grand Slam titles on a surface as demanding as clay is no easy feat, and to do it during a point in your career which was marred by injury, is truly commendable.
Nadal will go down in history as the greatest player on clay and one of the greatest fighters the world of sports has ever seen.