Misc Tennis

Despite first-round loss, Nadal’s legacy at the French Open is unparalleled

Despite first-round loss, Nadal's legacy at the French Open is unparalleled

PARIS — THE CHEERS and shouts of “Vamos Rafa!” started even before the first glimpse of Rafael Nadal on Court Philippe-Chatrier. Just like in previous years, the crowd roared ever louder as their hero warmed up, against the backdrop of stadium announcer Marc Maury reading out his incredible list of French Open triumphs.

But as the match went on against Alexander Zverev, the cheers switched from those of excitement to nervousness, and as it slipped away from Nadal, the crowd tried to will him on.

If this does prove to be Nadal’s final swing at the French Open men’s singles title, then he went down fighting against Zverev. Though Nadal has been at pains all week to play down the notion of this fortnight in Paris being a destination on his farewell tour, there was a feeling of finality. His old foe Novak Djokovic was in the crowd. His fans and Grand Slam winners Iga Swiatek and Carlos Alcaraz were there too, not a seat free on this showpiece court at Roland Garros, for a first-round match. They all collectively hoped for one last Nadal hurrah — just like Serena Williams‘ fans did at the US Open in 2022.

But tennis is brutal, and there is little room for sentimentality. For all of Nadal’s attempts to claw back into the match, the trumpet fanfares, the red and yellow flags in the crowd, and moments which were inescapably reminiscent of the Nadal of old, there would be no final flourish at Roland Garros. For this year, at least.

“If it’s the last time that I played here, I am at peace with myself,” Nadal said. “I tried everything to be ready for this tournament for almost 20 years. And today and the last two years I have been working and going through probably the toughest process in my tennis career, with the dream to come back here. At least I did that. I mean, I lost, but that’s part of the business.”

EVER SINCE NADAL made his debut here in 2005, winning the men’s singles title the same year, this place has become synonymous with him. His record is frankly ridiculous: winning 14 singles titles, a record of 112 wins in 116 matches, translating to a win percentage of 96.5% — the highest winning percentage of any singles tennis player in a major. He managed to win the 2008, 2010, 2017 and 2020 tournaments without dropping a set. His…

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