Man, I want so badly to crank the heat on the NBA Finals hot takes and blast you guys with rantings about LeBron’s G.O.A.T. status, the Warriors’ lameness and the fact that I hold no grudge against Kevin Durant taking his talents to Golden State to win a title. Durant was incredible — although, he still ain’t touching the King.
But, more impressive than Durant and King James was a Spaniard who treats clay like the scene from “Ghost.” I’m talking about Rafael Nadal, who Sunday won an unprecedented 10th French Open crown at the Stade Roland Garros in Paris.
White shorts coated in desert-sand colored clay, Nadal raised the Coupe des Mousquetaires high into the air in celebration after laying on the court like a kid seeing snow for the first time.
But this was hardly a first.
Aside from winning his 10th French Open title, four more than Bjorn Borg and seven more than anybody else in the Open era, Nadal’s numbers at the event are staggering.
On his run to “La Decima” or “the tenth,” Nadal only lost 35 games, the second fewest in the Open era by a grand slam champion. He’s won 79 of 81 French Open matches, and one of those was a withdraw due to injury. And the King of Clay has an insane 102-2 record in best-of-five-set matches on clay courts.
His numbers at the 2017 French Open? — at 31 years old, mind you. He didn’t drop a single set. He won four of his 20 sets without giving up a game, and only gave up one game in six sets. Not once did an opponent take five games.
In the championship, Nadal took down third-ranked Stan Wawrinka — the 2015 French Open champ — 6-2, 6-3, 6-1. A walk in the park.
So here we are, in an era of tennis that has to be considered the best ever. And it’s not even close. Nadal’s 10th French Open title was also his 15th grand slam win overall, giving him sole possession of second place in the record books ahead of Pete Sampras. Ahead of Nadal? Roger Federer with 18.
Both Nadal and Federer are still playing — and winning — and Novak Djokavic, ranked fourth on that list with 12 grand-slam titles, is ranked fourth in the world.
And there are no signs of slowing down. Federer, 35, just won the Australian Open to kick off the 2017 season. He took down Nadal in a five-set slugfest.
Federer skipped the French because A) he had no shot against Rafa and B) he’s preparing for a long Wimbledon run. Federer and Nadal have met in nine grand-slam championship matches (Nadal has a 6-3 advantage). Nadal and Djokovic have met in seven finals, and Federer and Djokovic have met in four.
In 58 championship matches since 2003, only four times has one not featured Nadal, Federer, Djokovic or current No. 1 Andy Murray.
Even as these gentlemen seem to be “aging” in the sports world, it’s hard to suggest a decline in their games. Nadal’s 2017 French Open was as dominant as any of the previous nine, and he’s just the third male tennis player in history to win a major as a teenager, in his 20s and in his 30s. At this rate, a win at 40 doesn’t seem farfetched for him or Federer.
Throw in Serena, who is the best female athlete in the world and maybe of all time, and we’re smack in the middle of one of the most impressive eras any sport has ever seen. It’s like when Tiger Woods was at his most dominant, except we’ve got a handful of Tiger Woods all playing against other Tiger Woods.
These players, Nadal’s whimsical run through the French Open, they made me write a column about them over the NBA Finals and a guy I think is the best basketball player to ever play the game.
These guys are pretty dang impressive.