For one athlete to have so much success in one competition is completely unprecedented, while Nadal has also distinguished himself from Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic by winning 22 Grand Slam titles to 20 against his rivals.
“Don’t think that good old Philippe (Chatrier) will object if his court changes his name to Rafael Nadal – (a) a statue is not enough.”
But Nadal, always looking to downplay his accomplishments, believes his Roland Garros record could one day be improved.
“I always consider myself a very normal guy, so if I did it, maybe someone else can do it,” he told CNN’s Christian Amanpour on Monday.
“Obviously, the record of 22 Grand Slams is more than anyone can take that record. I’m sure it will; 14 Roland Garros is something… very difficult.”
In the 17 years between his first and last French Open titles, Nadal lost only three matches on Parisian clay: two against Djokovic, including last year’s semi-final, and one against Robin Soderling.
Sunday’s victory allowed Nadal, who turned 36 on Friday, to become the oldest men’s champion at Roland Garros. It was also the first time he had won both the Australian Open and the French Open in the same calendar year, ahead of Federer and Djokovic. Grand Slam calculations.
“Of course I want to be the player who has won the (most) Grand Slams in history – that’s the competition,” Nadal said.
“But it’s not something I’m obsessed with and it’s not something that changed my mind… To be honest, it’s something that doesn’t bother me if Novak wins 23 and I’m left with 22. I think my happiness will not change in everything, not even one percent.
Playing with injury
The events leading up to this year’s French Open are likely to make this title particularly special – and not least incredible – for Nadal.
At the Italian Open last month, he pulled out against Denis Shapovalov in the round of 16 while battling a foot injury, an ongoing problem that Nadal said required daily injections at the French Open to keep playing and training.
This meant that he played in the final without feeling his leg.
“After the pandemic, something happened to my leg. I can’t handle the pain to play often and even train,” said Nadal, who has been plagued by injury issues throughout his career.
“The only thing I can say is that despite all these difficulties, I always keep the passion to keep going forward and always have a love for the game,” he added. “I always wanted to continue. That’s probably why I’m in the position I’m in today.”
At a Sunday press conference, Nadal said he would be given a “radio frequency injection” of a nerve in his leg to ease the pain and keep playing.
Whether he competes at Wimbledon later this month depends on the success of this treatment, and at this point his long-term future in the sport is unclear.
“It was never in my mind (plans) to announce my retirement after this event, but of course there is a possibility that the situation will not improve,” he said. “Then I don’t know what might happen.”
“King of Clay” is now just “King”?
Winning the first two Grand Slams of the year means Nadal has the potential to win a calendar Grand Slam for the first time in his career with victories at Wimbledon and the US Open.
It’s a feat that Djokovic was one game short of last year, and hasn’t been done by a male player since Rod Laver in 1969.
“In this health situation, the chances are slim,” tennis journalist Christopher Clary told CNN Sport’s Christine McFarlane on Monday about the likelihood of Nadal winning the next two Grand Slams.
“Wimbledon is no longer his best surface; he hasn’t won in a long time. But how can you not try if you are healthy?
Even if he doesn’t add to his Grand Slam tally, it will be impossible to ever question Nadal’s status as one of the greatest players in this game. And in time the “King of Clay” could be remembered simply as “King”.
“I have achieved my dream and I love what I do,” said Nadal, who still doesn’t care where he ranks among his peers.
“I know the press and people are always very concerned about this, but in some way I am an important part of the history of the sport and it makes me feel proud and happy.
“In the end, it doesn’t really matter.”