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King of Clay’s quest for No. 14 : Nadal on doorstep of more history heading into French Open final

As if he hasn’t already made enough history at Roland-Garros over the years, Rafael Nadal will look to add to his amazing records when he goes up against Casper Ruud in the championship match on Sunday.

Rafael Nadal, Roland-Garros 2022 Rafael Nadal, Roland-Garros 2022 © Federico Pestellini, Panoramic

How much more history can Rafael Nadal make?

After all, Nadal is already the all-time leader in men’s singles Grand Slam titles with 21 and 13 of those have come at Roland-Garros. Still, the answer to the above question may be much more. Even at 36 years old, it looks like Nadal has a fair amount left in the tank and he has a golden chance on Sunday to lift La Coupe des Mousquetaires yet again.

What would another triumph mean for the Spaniard both in the immediate future and the long run? Let’s take a look at what’s at stake in the 2022 French Open championship match between Nadal and Casper Ruud.

Undefeated in Roland-Garros finals, Nadal aims for 14th title

Nadal’s numbers on the terre battue of Paris are quite simply ridiculous. His overall match record is 111-3, including a perfect 13-0 in finals. While he may be known as the King of Clay, Nadal right now is the king of everything. His Australian Open victory earlier this season gave him 21 Grand Slam titles, moving him atop the men’s singles all-time list as the solo leader — one clear of both Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer. Another title on Sunday would only increase his incredible records at Roland-Garros and in slams overall.

Taking women into account, a 22nd slam title for Nadal would equal Steffi Graf and put him one short of Serena Williams (23) while being two behind Margaret Court (24).

A loss, of course, would also make some history. Nadal has never lost in the French Open final; not once in his first 13 finals did he even get pushed to five sets. Six of his wins have come in straight sets and the other seven went four.

Nadal looking to become oldest champion, get halfway to calendar-year Grand Slam for first time

Nadal is the second-oldest men’s singles finalist at Roland-Garros, younger than only Bill Tilden (1930). If he prevails on Sunday, he will become the oldest men’s singles champion at Roland-Garros. Fellow Spaniard Andres Gimeno is currently the oldest; he was 34 years and 9 months old when he secured the title in 1972. Nadal is 36 years and 0 months old (his birthday was on Friday); he was 34 years 4 months old for his most recent success in Paris (2020, when the event was held in the fall because of the Covid-19 pandemic).

Rafael Nadal, Roland-Garros 2021

There are not many first-time accomplishments Nadal can make at this stage in his illustrious career, but there is always a first for something. For Nadal, he can get halfway to a calendar-year Grand Slam — which has never done before. That’s right; he has never won the Australian Open and French Open in the same season. Until 2022, Nadal’s lone triumph at Melbourne Park was 2009. Later that year he suffered his first-ever loss at Roland-Garros (to Robin Soderling in the fourth round).

There is always a conversation about the player who finish with more slams or who is the best of the history, but from my perspective doesn’t matter that much

Rafael Nadal

This would be just the third time in his career that Nadal wins back-to-back majors. He previously did so in 2008 (Roland-Garros and Wimbledon) and 2010 (he actually won three consecutively that year: Roland-Garros, Wimbledon, and the US Open).

Regardless of Sunday’s outcome, Nadal will become the third man in the Open Era to reach 30 slam singles finals (both Djokovic and Federer are at 31).

What would a title mean for Nadal in the GOAT race with Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer?

Although Nadal always insists that he isn’t especially interested in the greatest of all time debate, he may want to change his mind if he triumphs on Sunday. After all, Grand Slam victory No. 22 would put him two ahead of Djokovic and Federer. Djokovic is 35 years old and his status for future Australian Opens is a question mark since he is unvaccinated. Federer is 40 years old there is no guarantee that he will ever return to official ATP Tour competition.

Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer, Roland-Garros 2006

“We played in the most important events, in the most important matches for a lot of years, and it’s always special to play against each other,” Nadal said of his rivalry with Djokovic following Tuesday’s quarter-final victory over the world No 1.

“Between Novak, Roger, myself, we have an amazing story together facing each other in the most important matches for such a long time. So that makes the things more special and more emotional.

“Of course there is always a conversation about the player who finish with more slams or who is the best of the history, but from my perspective doesn’t matter that much. We achieved our dreams; we made history in this sport because we did things that didn’t happen before. So (it) doesn’t matter much which player (is) going to finish with more slams or (be) the best of the history, because the level of [us] three is very equal. (There) is not much difference, so (it) doesn’t matter.

What would a title mean for the rest of Nadal’s 2022 season?

There were conflicting reports earlier this week regarding Nadal’s status for Wimbledon. The Spanish newspaper Marca reported that the world No 5 would not play, but his PR quickly refuted such a claim and said that no decision has been made.

Although Nadal does not want to push his schedule too hard in the wake of his chronic foot injury, he could be tempted to play Wimbledon if the calendar-year Grand Slam is still a possibility. After all, as mentioned above this would be the first time that he wins the first two majors in a calendar year. And with Federer out along with all of the Russians, a Wimbledon title would be very much within reach.

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