Comment: Rafael Nadal’s astonishing French Open record may just be the most remarkable in all of sport

Kevin Palmer
Rafael Nadal lifts the French Open trophy
Rafael Nadal celebrates winning the French Open

No words can be worthy of illuminating Rafael Nadal’s achievements at the French Open.

As the Spanish icon claimed a remarkable 14th title on the red dirt in Paris with a comprehensive three-set win against Norway’s Casper Ruud in Sunday’s final, his success in claiming a 22nd major title in the race to be hailed as the greatest of all time was one of the leading narratives being spawned by a sizeable media pack gathered in the French capital.

Yet that debate was never going to be decided on a captivating Sunday afternoon this June, as the final analysis of this golden age of tennis will only be complete when Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer have played their last match.

What can be debated here and now is Nadal’s astonishing record at the French Open that may just be the most remarkable in all of sport.

Tiger Woods is hailed as the greatest in golf after winning 15 major titles, Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi are saluted as the greatest of their football generation after winning the Champions League a combined total of nine times, with Sir Alex Ferguson’s 13 Premier League titles a mark that defines his era of success as Manchester United manager.

Yet Nadal now has numbers next to his name to put all those icons into the shade, with his record of winning 112 of his 115 matches at Roland Garros a mark of his genius.

These incredible numbers created by Nadal are so far ahead of any other player that it is impossible to imagine they will ever be matched, with Eurosport expert and eight-time major champion Mats Wilander summing up his achievement in simple terms.

“We are witnessing sports history with Rafa, we thought it before, and now even more so,” said the Swede. John McEnroe said it will never beaten – and no, this record will never be beaten at a Grand Slam. Will this record be beaten in any sporting event that’s annual? That’s the question.”

What comes next almost seems irrelevant for a legend who has already achieved more than enough, but former British No 1 Tim Henman suggests tennis needs to hope 36-year-old Nadal can overcome his ongoing foot problem to remain in the game for a few more years.

“It’s a privilege to see one of the greatest champions in our sport playing like that,” Henman told Eurosport. “When you reflect on the draw he had, the uncertainty he had coming in, how was his foot going to be, he just took it one step at a time, he got better and better.

“(Felix) Auger-Aliassime was a tough battle, he then had to back it up against Djokovic – everything, as usual, that has been put in front of him he has found a solution and found the answer for. To play Ruud in this final, he wasn’t going to take anything for granted and just went out there and delivered as he always does in these finals.”

The always humble Nadal often seems embarrassed to reflect on his own success and that is one of the reasons why the tennis public never grows tired of seeing him win again, again and again.

Wimbledon is next on the tennis agenda and Nadal has confirmed he will try and play on the All England Club grass if his foot problem does not flair up in the next three weeks, with Henman suggesting this evergreen champion could now finished ahead of Djokovic and Federer in the all-time major list..

“In terms of who is going to end up with the most amount of Grand Slams, a couple of years ago I would have said Djokovic for sure. But right now, with that little bit of distance, I think Nadal got a great chance,” Henman told Eurosport.

“It’s going to be fascinating to see. You have got another opportunity in three weeks’ time so fingers crossed, I so hope Rafa can be there on the grass.”

The debate over the ATP and WTA’s decision to strip ranking points away from Wimbledon after the All England Club decided to ban Russia and Belarusian players in response to Russia’s brutal invasion of the Ukraine has dominated the tennis agenda in recent weeks, but Nadal’s latest win in Paris reminded us all that ranking points count for little when the game’s true greats are under the spotlight.

The GOAT debate will not be decided by who spent the most weeks in the No 1 ranking spot, who won the most Masters titles or even who is the most popular tennis player of all time.

Nadal might not come out on top in any of those discussions, but he might just be destined to go down as the best of the all in the race to win the most major titles.

It is a twist in this take few saw coming just at the start of 2022.