The Numbers Don’t Lie: Why Beating Rafa In Paris Is Nigh Impossible
There is plenty that has been impressive about Rafael Nadal's success at Roland Garros — the Spaniard has triumphed 10 times and won 85 of 87 matches, for starters. But the statistics show that the task that first-time Grand Slam finalist Dominic Thiem faces on Sunday is even more daunting than you might think.
Nadal has never lost after the quarter-finals on the Parisian terre battue, holding a 21-0 record in semi-finals and finals en route to his 10 trophies, which is the most captured by any man at a single major.
Most Singles Titles Won At A Single Major (All-Time, Men)
|Rafael Nadal||Roland Garros||10||2005-08, 2010-14, 2017|
|Roger Federer||Wimbledon||8||2003-07, 2009, 2012, 2017|
|Richard Sears||US Championships||7||1881-87*|
|William Renshaw||Wimbledon||7||1881-86, 1889|
|William Larned||US Championships||7||1901-02, 1907-11*|
|Bill Tilden||US Championships||7||1920-25, 1929|
|Pete Sampras||Wimbledon||7||1993-95, 1997-2000|
But perhaps it is the left-hander's performance in championship matches that is most striking. The World No. 1 has won 50 per cent of his sets in Roland Garros finals by a margin of 6-3 or greater. And what is most stunning about that is that his opponents’ average ATP Ranking has been 6.1. If you eliminate Mariano Puerta, who was World No. 37 when he lost to Nadal in the 2005 final, that average would drop to 2.7. So not only is he dominating with the Coupe des Mousquetaires on the line, but he is thumping the world's best in the process.
Nadal's Roland Garros Final Sets By Score
|Score||Number Of Sets|
In those matches, Nadal has won 61.2 per cent (207-131) of games played. And in three of the finals (2008 vs Federer, 2013 vs Ferrer and 2017 vs Wawrinka), all against Top 5 players in the ATP Rankings, the Spaniard did not let slip one set past 6-3.
Fun Facts: Nadal In Roland Garros Finals
|Sets Won/Lost||30-6 (83.3%)|
|Games Won/Lost||207-131 (61.2%)|
|Average Opponent ATP Ranking||6.1|
And the best-of-five-set element adds another hurdle for Thiem. Nadal is 110-2 (98.2%) in clay-court five setters, with his only losses coming in the Round of 16 at Roland Garros in 2009 against Robin Soderling and in the 2015 quarter-finals against Novak Djokovic. And while the World No. 1 has been oustanding in best-of-three matches on the surface, winning 87.5 per cent (364-52) of the time, he has proven to be even greater of a challenge for opponents in the longer format.
Comparing Nadal's Record In Best-of-Three & Best-of-Five Set Matches
|Rafael Nadal In...||Record|
|Best-of-Three Sets||635-151 (80.8%)|
|Best-of-Three Sets On Clay||364-52 (87.5%)|
|Best-of-Five Sets||262-36 (87.9%)|
|Best-of-Five Sets On Clay||110-2 (98.2%)|
Nadal has greatly contributed to the dominance of the 'Big Five' (Nadal, Federer, Djokovic, Murray & Wawrinka), starting with his first Roland Garros triumph in 2005. Since then, those five players have accounted for 50 of the past 52 Grand Slam titles. During the current stretch, Nadal has won 16 titles, Federer has captured 16, Djokovic has lifted 12 trophies, while Murray and Wawrinka have earned three apiece. The two other players to win a Grand Slam title during the span are Juan Martin del Potro (2009 US Open) and Marin Cilic (2014 US Open).
All-Time Grand Slam Titles Leaders
|Player||Grand Slam Titles|
|1. Roger Federer||20|
|2. Rafael Nadal||16|
|3. Pete Sampras||14|
|T4. Novak Djokovic||12|
|T4. Roy Emerson||12|
If Thiem is to join that group, he will add his name to elite company in more ways than one. The Austrian can become just the 11th player in the Open Era to defeat the top two seeds at a Grand Slam, with the last being Wawrinka when he won the title two years ago. The Swiss, who also did it at the 2014 Australian Open, is the only player to accomplish the feat in the past 25 years, dating back to 1993 Roland Garros (Sergi Bruguera). Thiem beat Alexander Zverev, the second seed, in the quarter-finals.
Past Five Players To Beat Top 2 Seeds At A Grand Slam (Open Era)
|Player||Tournament||No. 1 Seed||No. 2 Seed|
|Stefan Edberg||1990 Wimbledon||Ivan Lendl (SF)||Boris Becker (F)|
|Michael Stich||1991 Wimbledon||Stefan Edberg (SF)||Boris Becker (F)|
|Sergi Bruguera||1993 Roland Garros||Pete Sampras (QF)||Jim Courier (F)|
|Stan Wawrinka||2014 Australian Open||Rafael Nadal (F)||Novak Djokovic (QF)|
|Stan Wawrinka||2015 Roland Garros||Novak Djokovic (F)||Roger Federer (QF)|
Thiem is also attempting to make Austrian history, as he can become just the second player — man or woman — from the country to capture a major title. The 24-year-old (18-4) already has the second-most wins at Roland Garros among players from the nation, trailing just 1995 champion Thomas Muster (32-13).
Most Wins By An Austrian Man At Roland Garros (All-Time)
|1. Thomas Muster||32-13|
|2. Dominic Thiem||18-4|
|3. Jurgen Melzer||16-13|
|4. Herman Von Artens||15-6|
|5. Franz-Wilhelm Matejka||9-3|
Clay has clearly been Thiem’s best surface, as he has earned 109 of his 206 tour-level victories and eight of his 10 titles on the beaten earth. Thiem also leads the ATP World Tour this season with 26 victories (26-6) on the red dirt, with Nadal right behind (25-1). If the right-hander pulls off the upset Sunday, he will join Ivan Lendl as the only men to claim Grand Slam titles on their 18th major appearances. He can also become the youngest Grand Slam champion since Novak Djokovic (24 years, 252 days) won the 2012 Australian Open.
2018 ATP World Tour Clay-Court Win Leaders
|Player||2018 Clay-Court Record|
|1. Dominic Thiem||26-6|
|2. Rafael Nadal||25-1|
|3. Alexander Zverev||21-4|
|4. Diego Schwartzman||17-7|
|5. Fabio Fognini||17-9|
But, as history dictates, defeating Nadal in a Roland Garros final is one of the most challenging tests in sports.