There was a fascinating moment towards the end of Sunday’s men’s final. After Rafael Nadal claimed another point en route to the trophy, the camera focused on Dominic Thiem’s face. Here was a man suffering.
Despite beating the best player in the world only 24 hours before, the Austrian realised that he could not beat the man across the net this time. His level would not be good enough to stop the relentless King of Clay.
The Mallorcan soon completed his mission and defeated Thiem 6-3 5-7 6-1 6-1 to win the Coupe de Mousquetaires for the 12th time. Look at that again. That’s a dozen French Open titles won by one man.
Nadal’s record at Roland Garros now stands at 93-2 or 98% wins from matches played. It’s such a phenomenal ratio that tennis followers are wondering if it’s the best stat for any sportsperson ever?
Rafa first played the French Open in 2005 and naturally won it by beating Mariano Puerta in the final. He claimed the next three editions before heavy-hitter Robin Soderling knocked the lefty out in the fourth round of the 2009 event.
Normal service resumed from 2010 to 2014 as Nadal reached nine career French Open titles. In 2015, the Spaniard suffered defeat for only the second time at Roland Garros when Novak Djokovic beat him in the quarters. The following season, Nadal withdrew before a third-round match with a wrist injury so that doesn’t count as a loss.
In 2017, Nadal claimed La Décima by defeating Stan Wawrinka in the final. Dominic Thiem has been runner-up for the past two seasons, as the 33-year-old has moved to 12 French Open titles from 15 appearances.
By way of comparison, Nadal has won more major titles in Paris than Rod Laver and Bjorn Borg managed everywhere (11). Nadal is six clear of Borg in the overall French Open title standings and 11 clear of both Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic. Pete Sampras never won at the Bois de Boulogne either.
On the women’s side, Margaret Court did win 11 Australian titles between 1960 and 1973. However, seven of those victories happened before the professional era began (1969), so the calibre of competition has to be taken into account.
Two other great individual achievements in tennis worth noting are the Open Era calendar Grand Slams of Rod Laver (1969) and Steffi Graf (1988). Graf deserves extra credit as she also won the Olympic gold medal along with the four majors.
Let’s take a look at some spectacular individual records from other sports to see where Rafa stands.
To date, 15 world champion boxers have retired with unbeaten records. Two names that stand tall on that list are Rocky Marciano and Floyd Mayweather Jr.
Marciano retired in 1955 as heavyweight champ with an unblemished record of 49-0. Mayweather’s incredible tally stands at 50-0 over five different weight classes.
Given that it was first played in the 15th century, it should be no surprise that there are some outstanding golf records. Two that jump out are Tiger Woods’s non-calendar year slam from 2000-01, and Jack Nicklaus’s tally in majors.
The Golden Bear holds the overall record for major title wins with 18, but he also finished runner-up more times than anyone else (19). Therefore, Nicklaus finished in the top two in 37 majors.
Racing legend Michael Schumacher has a number of superb achievements to his name including most total wins (91), most wins in a season (13) and most consecutive seasons with a grand prix win (15).
Mercedes’s Lewis Hamilton is not far behind the German and can boast of winning 33% of the 236 races he’s driven in.
The record that screams out here is Michael Phelps’ 23 swimming gold medals over four Olympic Games with 13 of them as an individual.
Other sporting greats worth a mention include Usain Bolt, who did the 100m/200m double at three consecutive Olympic Games, and cross-country skier Marit Bjorgen who has the most medals of any athlete in Winter Olympics history (15, including nine gold).
So, is Nadal’s record the best? Well, that’s up you to decide!