by ATP Staff
“Nobody ever thought that anyone would ever come close to beating that record,” admitted Michael Chang, the 1989 champion. “For our generation, to hear the stories about Bjorn Borg from guys that were already unbelievable clay-court players, to hear the fear in their voice whenever they talked about Bjorn Borg, for us, we never thought that those records could ever be touched.”
Over the next couple decades, Mats Wilander, Ivan Lendl and Gustavo Kuerten came closest to matching the Swede’s mark, with each capturing three titles. On Monday, Rafael Nadal proved himself a class apart from the clay-court greats as he lifted the Roland Garros trophy for the seventh time.
“For me, it’s really an honour,” said the Mallorcan on court, following his victory. “Borg is one of the greatest of history, so for me, the comparison with the great Bjorn is fantastic.”
He added later: “It is a real emotional day, winning another time here. Sure, the seventh is important because I am the player who has more today, but like I said yesterday: that’s after. For me, the important thing is to win Roland Garros even if it’s the first, second, third, or seventh [time]. ”
Since making his Paris debut as an 18 year old in 2005, Nadal has virtually owned Roland Garros. In eight appearances, he has compiled 52 wins to one loss, dropped 14 total sets, been extended to five sets just once and won the title twice without the loss of the set.
Just how tough is Nadal at Roland Garros? He has victimised some of the best players to compete on the surface: he conceded three games toNicolas Almagro in the 2008 quarter-finals; four games to Roger Federerin the 2008 final; and five games to David Ferrer in the 2012 semi-finals. “Winning a match against Rafa [at Roland Garros] is almost impossible,” admitted Ferrer.
“I know when Borg played in my day he was like the human backboard,” said John McEnroe, the 1984 Roland Garros finalist. “He was faster than everyone, fitter than everyone, and you couldn’t get a ball by the guy. I saw guys get exhausted in the first set, like the best clay court players in the world. It’s like the same thing when you play Nadal…This guy, he comes to play every match. This is a guy that just doesn’t give it away.”
And consider this: Nadal only seems to be improving with age. This year, he dropped just 35 games through his first six matches - the fewest number of games he’d ever dropped en route to a Grand Slam final.
World No. 1 Novak Djokovic, who came up short in his bid to hold all four Grand Slam titles with a four-set loss to Nadal in the final, said: “He’s definitely best player in history, on this surface, and results are showing that he’s one of the best ever players that played this game. I mean, he’s only 26 years old.”
While Borg essentially retired at the age of 26, Nadal has shown no signs of slowing down. There’s no telling how many more titles he could win in Paris before he hangs up his racquets. When asked whether there would be enough room to accommodate all his silverware, Nadal said with a smile, “Sure, there is space. There’s always space for a Roland Garrostrophy.”