The ongoing battle between Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal over the last 15 years has without a doubt been the most enthralling time in any tennis era. Chances are we won’t see anything like it again but instead of feeling depressed at the thought of the sun setting on the competition between the duo, we should drink in the last act as best we can, starting with the French Open in May.
The tournament in France’s capital will in all likelihood be the first time that Rafa Nadal surpasses Roger Federer’s tally of 20 Grand Slam titles, a monumental moment in the history of the game. Should Nadal be able to do so, then it will be similar to that of a Formula One driver passing his opponent on the final corner before they both head down the home straight to claim the chequered flag.
Nadal’s timing on this marathon journey has been impeccable and with questions being asked about whether Federer has reached the end of the line as a dominant player, it seems unlikely that his fierce Swiss rival will stand in his way in Paris.
Indeed, Federer’s decision to pull out of the year’s first Grand Slam, the Australian Open in February, was another reminder that the 39-year-old can’t go on forever.
But where there is life, there is always hope, and the news that Federer plans on returning to the clay courts of Roland-Garros to contest the French Open will be warmly received by his legion of fans. For some, this development will go a long way in answering questions about his future in the game, for others, it will be seen as a chance to bid farewell to the tournament he won in 2011 as his retirement looms.
Regardless of any particular motives, Federer, of course, will have his back to the wall given that as of the 2nd of April, his odds of winning the French Open are as far out as 21.00. Much of that has to do with Federer’s recent hiatus from Roland-Garros and his reluctance to play on clay as he gets older.
The 39-year-old’s return to Paris will be his first appearance at the French Open since 2019 after he took the strategic decision to skip the clay season in order to prolong his career and maximize his chances on grass. This master plan almost worked a charm at the very first time of asking as Federer served for the Wimbledon championship whilst ahead in a tie-break against Novak Djokovic a few months later. Unfortunately for Federer, it wasn’t meant to be as the Serb rallied back to sensationally win the 2019 Wimbledon title.
It was a crushing blow for the Swiss legend and looking back, perhaps the last real chance he had to increase his Grand Slam tally to 21. The long-serving ambassador for watchmakers Rolex may well also look back at that defeat as the moment he opened the door for Nadal to surpass his record. Indeed, Mallorca’s favorite son is now poised to walk up the breathtakingly beautiful avenue of the Champs-Élysées and onto the Stade Roland-Garros to enjoy his coronation.
The 34-year-old Spaniard will be brimming with confidence as he sets out to defend the 2020 French Open title that he won. Nadal’s success in the autumn of 2020 was his fourth Roland Garros title in a row and his ninth in eleven years.
All in all, Nadal has won 13 French Open titles which is a total that will surely never be bettered ever again. It wouldn’t be inaccurate or even unfair to say that the Spaniard has built his legacy on being the greatest of all time on the clay courts in Paris. Indeed, the King of Clay is about to become the King of Tennis and there probably isn’t a better place in the world than the City of Light for the background to the crowning moment in a sportsman’s life.
Fittingly, it was Henry Miller who said that “when spring comes to Paris the humblest mortal alive must feel that he dwells in paradise.” The spring of 2021 could be the most defining moment in the history of the men’s game with Rafa Nadal set to win his 21st Grand Slam.