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Rafael Nadal celebrates winning his 100th match at Roland Garros, where he clinched his 13th trophy on Sunday against Novak Djokovic.

Rafa Relishes Records, But Puts 20th Slam In Perspective In Face Of Pandemic

Nadal reflects on 13th Roland Garros triumph

The mark of great champions is not just their records, but how they put their achievements in perspective. Rafael Nadal did just that after lifting his 13th Roland Garros title on Sunday.

It was a historic moment for the Spaniard, who is now tied with Roger Federer for the most Grand Slam titles in history with 20. But the 34-year-old had other things on his mind, none of which involved touting his own success.

“I'm not stupid. It’s still a very sad situation worldwide. If you ask me what my feeling is, of course I am super happy,” Nadal said. “On the other hand, I am not [as] happy as usual because the situation is tough for most of the people around the world.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the world in 2020, affecting millions of lives. Nadal was happy to compete in his first Grand Slam championship since the Australian Open in January, but he knows there are many people suffering.

“I won the tournament, [but] I [haven’t] changed my thoughts. The situation is still sad. We are lucky enough to be able to practise, to play our sport, to have a Tour,” Nadal said. “We can't thank enough the ATP and Roland Garros and the US Open and everybody who made big efforts to organise events under these very difficult circumstances. But I didn't forget how tough the situation in the world is. I just really hope that the situation improves very soon.”

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Nadal typically storms into Roland Garros with boatloads of momentum following a successful clay season. But because the pandemic forced the ATP Tour’s suspension for more than five months, the schedule — and therefore, the clay build-up — was changed. The lefty was upset in the quarter-finals at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia and had to deal with heavy conditions in Paris, where it was cold and wet during the fortnight.

Given the circumstances, did Nadal ever question whether he’d be able to find the stunning level with which he smothered Djokovic in straight sets on Court Philippe-Chatrier?

“Doubts are part of life. I always say the same. For me, doubts are good because it means that you don't consider yourself too good,” Nadal said. “Of course, this year has been a tough year for everyone. Of course, my preparation for this tournament [was] not perfect.

“I was in doubt before the match, yes. But it's true that my level of confidence and tennis has been improving every single day during the whole tournament.

“The feeling of the ball, practising even today in the morning, then the warm-up, yesterday, my level of confidence hitting the ball has been going up every single day. I was not confident, because you can't be too confident going on court against Novak, but I have been positive, thinking I would be able to play a good match.”

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The 86-time tour-level champion did not drop a set in the tournament and he won more sets 6-0 (3) than he did 7-6 (2). Nadal saved his best for last against Djokovic, striking 31 winners to just 14 unforced errors. Djokovic is typically tennis’ immovable object, but Nadal manoeuvred him as he pleased on Sunday.

“Of course I played at an amazing level of tennis. For two sets and a half I played great. I can't say another thing. It’s impossible to have this score against him without playing great,” Nadal said. “I played at my highest level when I needed to play at my highest level, so [that’s] something I am very proud of.

“I was able to adapt well. I was able to… be positive in every circumstance that I faced during the whole event, trying to accept all the challenges… I just tried to work every day with the right determination, looking for my goals. I think it’s one of the Roland Garros’ that has a better personal value for myself.”

Nadal admitted that if someone would have told him a month and a half ago that he’d lift the Coupe des Mousquetaires this year, he would have replied, “This year will probably be too difficult.” But it’s certainly sweet to tie Federer atop the Grand Slam titles leaderboard

“I never hide that for me… I would love to finish my career being the player with more Grand Slams. No doubt about that,” Nadal said. “But on the other hand I say, ‘Okay, I have to do my way.’ I did [things] my way during all my career. Worked well. I'm not going to be thinking all the time, ‘Novak has this one, Roger is winning the other one.’ You can't always be unhappy because your neighbour has a bigger house than you or a bigger boat or have a better phone. You have to live your personal life.”

Nadal believes it’s “beautiful” to share the mark with Federer, his longtime rival. If Nadal didn’t achieve the feat, he would have shrugged his shoulders and moved on knowing there are bigger issues in the world than failing to lift a trophy. As jaw-dropping as Nadal’s 20 Grand Slam titles and 13 Roland Garros triumphs are, Nadal’s humanity is most impressive of all.

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