The King of Clay had his reputation at stake. Anyone, who could say anything, used the medium of his/her choice to cast doubts on Nadal’s ability. Nadal, too, helped his critics by some sloppy display in the 2014 season. But the great Rafa took all this in his stride and refused to be drawn into any discussion about his chances of winning the French open title in 2014 to make it for the ninth time in ten years. Rafa lost the Australian Open final due to a mid-match injury and stuttered in a few other tournaments in the run up to the year’s second Grand Slam. He progressed easily through his early round matches, until he met David Ferrer in the quarters. He lost a set but won the match to enter the semifinal, where he came face to face with the reigning Wimbledon Champion, Andy Murray. But when Rafa completed a surgical demolition of Murray in the semifinal, his worst critics would have stirred in their seats. And then he came to the last final with Novak Djokovic, the only player actually capable of spoiling Rafa’s party. But already a legend in his right, Rafa didn’t lose focus despite the first set loss. He achieved his goal in great style and etched his name in tennis history.
Going by Rafa’s performance this season, many people didn’t want to give Rafa another chance at Roland Garros. One more reason that presented a real threat to Rafa, was Novak Djokovic looking solid in the tournament, and the Spaniard knew about it. True to his form in this year’s French Open, Djokovic broke Rafa midway in the first set and forced the Spaniard committing some avoidable errors. The Serb mixed deep forehand winners, often across the court, with perfectly placed drop sets and in a manner befitting his supreme confidence, ran away with the first set 6-3. Midway in the second set, Rafa and Djokovic traded breaks and when the score reached 5-6 on Djokovic’s service, it was Nadal, who pushed the Serb hard to the extent that he was forced to commit a blunder. Djokovic’s forehand volley fell out and Rafa made it one-set all.
In the third set, Djokovic looked tired after a long rally lasting 22 shots that ended when the Serb sent a backhand shot into the net. The dejected Djokovic, however, broke back once again, but with the score reading 2-4 in favor of Rafa, Djokovic’s frustration got the better of him. After Rafa earned his first set point, he kept the ball in play at all times, waiting for an error from the Serbian. Finally Djokovic committed one, when his shot landed beyond the baseline and with 2-1 set lead, Rafa had the control lever with him.
In the fourth set, Nadal ran away to a 4-2 lead but the dogged Djokovic dug out some hidden reserves to break Rafa with an astonishing return of serve on his second break point. When Djokovic began serving in the 10th game, down 4-5, he offered Rafa his first championship point. It was a crunch point for both players but it turned out to be an anticlimax, when Djokovic served an unexpected double fault and lost the match 6-3, 5-7, 2-6, 4-6 after a 3½ battle. The great Rafa slumped to his knees in victory with tears of joy rolling down on his face.
There won’t be another example of a tennis player, winning nine trophies in a single tournament, with five of which coming on trot. For a decade now, Rafa has continued to be a dominant force on the world tennis scene. Though most of his successes have come on clay, he has excelled on other surfaces as well. With time, he has matured into a humble human being as well. Therefore, he refused to react to his critics branding him as a spent force on clay this season. But he proved them wrong with his fabulous victory yesterday. If not on all clay surfaces, there is no doubt that Rafa saunters on Roland Garros courts like a true king riding in a solitary splendor.