Nadal On First Roland Garros Title: 'Peace Of Mind Was Fleeting'
Spaniard reflects on his maiden Grand Slam triumph
Two days after celebrating his 19th birthday, Rafael Nadal defeated Mariano Puerta 6-7(6), 6-3, 6-1, 7-5 in his first Grand Slam final to become the first player to lift the Coupe des Mousquetaires on his tournament debut since Mats Wilander in 1982.
Despite his youth and inexperience at the clay-court Grand Slam championship, it was clear he was a title contender after winning in Monte Carlo, Barcelona and Rome in the preceding weeks.
“When I arrived at Roland Garros for the first time in 2005, as always, I took it match-by-match, but I was aware that if I could play as well as I had played in the previous tournaments I had a chance,” said Nadal.
“I was brimming with energy, the lack of awareness of someone so young and clearly I was capable of reaching important balls, that were very difficult, returning them with power, with intensity and playing with enormous passion.”
To reach the championship match in Paris, Nadal overcame World No. 1 Roger Federer in the semi-finals. The Spaniard, who suffered a five-set final defeat to the Swiss earlier that year in Miami, converted nine of 13 break points to secure a four-set victory.
“I think it was a good match. The final was a difficult match, but physically I felt amazing and I was very confident with my game because I’d won all those previous tournaments. That gave me peace of mind and confidence,” said Nadal.
Nadal started the 2005 ATP Tour season at No. 51 in the FedEx ATP Rankings, but he soon made it clear that he was destined to achieve great things. So much so, that between February and May he accumulated five titles on clay before reaching the French capital.
“Everything happened very quickly,” said Nadal. “I went from being No. 50 in the world to fighting to win Roland Garros. I think in my head I assimilated that well, calmly. I think I had been adequately educated to be prepared in case something like that happened. I accepted everything as if it were normal and I think that that was one of the keys to being able to continue with the same intensity of work, passion and motivation.”
On 5 June, after Zinedine Zidane presented him with the trophy in Paris, the Spaniard breathed a sigh of relief.
“When I won my first Roland Garros in 2005, I thought at that time that it was the biggest thing I would achieve in my career. Now, I’m going to play with peace of mind, I’m going to play more relaxed for the rest of my career,” said Nadal.
“But I was completely mistaken. The years go by and you’re nervous for all of them, in all of them you want to play well, you want to have a chance to keep on winning and, honestly, the peace of mind that I thought winning Roland Garros would give me was fleeting.”
Although he was unaware of it at the time, he would go on to lift 12 titles at the event. Nadal is the only man in history to win a single Grand Slam tournament on 12 occasions.
“When you win, it’s easy to keep winning, because it gives you peace of mind, the confidence and energy," said Nadal. "Roland Garros has been important for everything throughout my career, to win on fast courts, on grass, anywhere.”
And it was in Paris that Nadal built the confidence to become a legendary player.