CreditChristophe Ena/Associated Press
PARIS — It is surely time for a new favorite number for Rafael Nadal.
Once a very promising soccer player, he has long been partial to No. 9, which often denotes a striker, but it is the No. 10 that has kept bringing him joy and fulfillment this spring.
Nadal had already won a record 10th singles title on the clay in Monte Carlo and in Barcelona. On Sunday, to no one’s surprise, he did the same at the clay-court event that still matters most, defeating Stan Wawrinka, 6-2, 6-3, 6-1, for his 10th French Open crown.
Wawrinka, a powerful 32-year-old from Switzerland, had never lost in his three previous Grand Slam singles finals. He beat Nadal in the 2014 Australian Open and Novak Djokovic in the 2015 French Open and in the 2016 United States Open.
But defeating a healthy, confident Nadal on the terre battue of Paris is still one of sport’s greatest challenges. The Spaniard — born, raised and still residing on the Mediterranean island of Majorca — is 31 now.
A lesser competitor might have lost his edge long ago, but Nadal is still sliding after drop shots and throwing his body into heavy topspin forehands with the gusto of a younger champion.
Much has changed since his first victory at Roland Garros in 2005, the year of his first appearance in the tournament.
In 2005, Nadal was partial to sleeveless shirts and pirate pants. In 2005, Court Philippe Chatrier had the no aerial camera traveling on a wire above it.
In 2005, one could stroll up to the entrance of Roland Garros Stadium with a ticket and enter the gates without being frisked or wanded.
CreditPetr David Josek/Associated Press
The world is very different, but the men’s game has remained surprisingly resistant to change. Nadal’s careerlong rival, Roger Federer, beat him to win the Australian Open at age 35 in January. Now Nadal has won another French Open, closing the gap with Federer in the all-time standings for Grand Slam singles titles.
Federer remains on top with 18. With Sunday’s win, his 15th, Nadal broke a tie with Pete Sampras for second place. Two-thirds of Nadal’s major titles have come at Roland Garros, where he has an astounding 79-2 record.
His only defeats came in the fourth round in 2009 against Robin Soderling and the quarterfinals in 2015 against Djokovic. He has never lost a French Open final, and his 10 victories in Paris make him the first player to win 10 Grand Slam singles titles at the same tournament in the Open era.
Martina Navratilova won nine at Wimbledon from 1978 to 1990. Margaret Court’s 11 titles at the Australian Open, seven of which came when it was an amateur event called the Australian Championships, are the all-time record.
What makes Nadal’s 10 titles in Paris all the more remarkable is that they came in a top-heavy era in the men’s game. Federer and Djokovic are excellent on the clay and, if not for Nadal, would surely have won more than just one Roland Garros title apiece.
Nadal has beaten great players, often beaten up on great players, to maintain his dominance. But if that dominance continues, one thing is expected to be different.
He has been coached since the beginning by his uncle, Toni Nadal, who gave him his first lesson in Majorca and has remained by his side throughout his career. But Toni announced this year that he would stop traveling with his nephew on a full-time basis after this season. Carlos Moyá, a former No. 1 and a fellow Majorcan, is now part of Nadal’s coaching team and is expected to take over the lead position next year.
Neither Nadal could have envisioned 10 titles when the pair made their first visit to Roland Garros together in 2005. They were both just delighted that the 19-year-old Nadal was in the event.
Twelve years later, the tournament now belongs a bit to both of them.