Rafael Nadal's French Open dominance at this stage of his career is LeBron James-like in its impressiveness
It's 11 titles at Roland Garros for Nadal, who is still in position to compete with Roger Federer for the best ever
Rafael Nadal just turned 32. In tennis years, he's supposed to be on retirement's doorstep, if not already in the home.
But on Sunday, the brilliant power player from Spain put on another wowing exhibit of his dominance when he won his 11th Roland Garros championship, taking the 2018 French Open 6-4, 6-3, 6-2 over Austrian Dominic Thiem.
The No. 1 player in the world won on the fifth championship point and got there after what appeared to be some nagging cramping in his left hand and forearm. The match was paused for a few minutes near the end of the third set while Nadal was seen by trainers.
"Cramping on the finger," Nadal said on NBC afterward. "I could not hold the racquet for a few minutes. I was very scared because I could not hold the racquet."
Nadal was up 2-1 at that point. The impairment scare didn't set him back. Nadal pushed through the mysterious pain and held on against Thiem's impressive backhand returns and -- at times -- equally matching forearm volleys. Early in the match it looked as though Thiem could make it a long day for the king of France. After all, he's the only person in the past two years to beat Nadal on clay.
Thiem was done in by losing on first-serve opportunities and then being induced into far too many unforced errors. The second set was rife with lost opportunities for the up-and-coming Austrian, who might one day claim a French Open title of his own -- but quite possibly after Nadal has stepped away.
Because there's still no beating Nadal on Parisian clay in the final weekend at Roland Garros. He remains undefeated in the French Open once he reaches the semifinals. The Spaniard has redefined what "automatic" means in sports. His all-time record is now an outlandish 86-2 at the French Open. Nadal presides over Roland Garros with more command and success than maybe any athlete in any venue -- ever. They should name the stadium after him at this point.
Sunday's championship victory was as convincing and efficient a Grand Slam title as almost any other in Nadal's epic career. It's being referred to as "undécima" -- Spanish for "the eleventh." He's now at 17 Grand Slam trophies, but Sunday's match also brought him to a new territory of supremacy. His 11th Roland Garros title makes for the third tournament that he's won 11 times; Monte Carlo and Barcelona's tournaments have also seen Nadal power his way to almost a dozen wins each.
The feat is unmatched in tennis history.
"I can't describe my feelings because it's not even a dream, winning here the 11th time, because it's impossible to think of something like this," Nadal said.
He was unusually emotional, too. Nadal winning another French title might seem like a given from the outside, but scenes like this are a reminder to him and to us that breaking through again and again has tolls that match the rewards.
Nadal bounced back after a wobbly end to 2017 because of injury. He withdrew from tournaments earlier this year to help his recovery. Now it seems like he's reinforced his body for another tour de force stage of his career.
This makes for, what, the fourth of fifth revival of Nadal we've seen?
And while Roger Federer and his 20 Grand Slam titles have him planted atop the all-time list of tennis greats, Nadal winning the Coupe des Mousquetaires trophy for the 11th time was a reminder that the debate between him and Federer is not quite done.
Nadal doesn't seem ready to slow down. He and Federer have claimed ownership of the past six Grand Slam titles in men's tennis. The duo still owns this sport, and they're both set to play Wimbledon in July.
If Nadal's body can hold up, he still has a chance to make a toss-up of the Federer-vs.-Nadal argument. This French Open was a reminder that Nadal is still playing at peak form, bringing to mind what LeBron James has done 15 years into a remarkable career. Tennis has had abrupt retirements over the decades, but Nadal's ability doesn't suggest he's close to finished. Further proof: He has lost only one set in the past two years at Roland Garros.
The deeper we get into Nadal's career, the more certain it seems that he's at worst the second-best men's tennis player in history. He's not indestructible, but he is indefatigable. No one has ever looked so powerful and fluent on the court, particularly on clay, where he remains the future and forever king.
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