When Rafael Nadal speaks about what he does on a tennis court, the word he chooses is “fight.”
It is the only way the Spaniard knows how to practice, battling for every ball for two and three hours at a time — the more oppressive the heat, the better. And it is the only way he knows how to compete.
It’s as if without struggle, in Nadal’s view, there is no point to tennis. No authentic way of knowing he is alive.
In Sunday’s French Open final, Austria’s Dominic Thiem threw every shot he had at the Spaniard. All it did was incite the beast that is Nadal, who proved, with a 6-3, 5-7, 6-1, 6-1 triumph, that he remains peerless on the red clay of Roland Garros, where his match record is now 93-2.
For the 12th time in the last 15 years, Nadal hoisted the French Open’s Coupe des Mousquetaires.
No player has won 12 singles championships in any single Grand Slam event. With his latest, Nadal now has 18th major titles, putting him within two of tying Roger Federer’s record 20.
Asked about that tantalizing proximity, Nadal said it wasn’t remotely on his mind on this special day or, in fact, ever.
Conceding that he and Federer have pushed each other throughout their careers, Nadal said: “I never try to think about whether I’m gonna catch Roger or not. Honestly, I am not worried about this stuff. You cannot be frustrated all the time because the neighbor has a bigger house than you or a bigger TV. That’s not the way that I see the life.”
Nadal fell flat on his back upon defeating the 25-year-old Thiem, who played remarkably well less than 24 hours after vanquishing world No. 1 Novak Djokovic in a weather-interrupted semifinal that spanned two days.