Rafael Nadal’s French Open bid: break Grand Slam record he shares with Roger Federer

French Open Tennis. Roland-Garros 2021.
Getty Images

Go back, for a moment, to May 8, 2005, when Rafael Nadal was still just 18 and yet to appear in a French Open, let alone win one.

After collecting his first trophy on the red clay of Rome — which had been preceded by his first trophy on the red clay of Barcelona, which in turn had been preceded by his first trophy on the red clay of Monte Carlo — Nadal was asked that day whether he agreed with the notion that all of this success would make him a popular pick for his first trophy on the red clay of Paris soon thereafter.

In an answer brimming with a mix of humility and common sense, Nadal noted that, yes, it did seem he was deemed the favorite for Roland Garros every time he won a match on the surface, but “after two weeks, I don’t know if I (will) play the same like now, no?” and, so, really, the favorite for the French Open should be whoever was playing the best during the French Open itself.

We all know how that turned out back then and, more often than not, ever since.

When his favorite tournament starts Sunday — in May, not September, as it did last year because of the pandemic, and with crowds numbering more than 5,000 on-site daily at the start and 10,000 or more by the end, not merely 1,000, like last year — Nadal will be pursuing a 14th championship in at Roland Garros.

That would break his own record that he keeps breaking and, of even more historic heft, go alongside four triumphs at the U.S. Opens, two at Wimbledon and one at the Australian Open to give the indefatigable lefty from Spain a total of 21 Grand Slam titles in all, which would break the men’s mark he shares with Roger Federer.

FRENCH OPEN DRAWS: Men | Women | TV Schedule

There are, certainly, other stories to follow over the 15 days of play in Paris.

Federer’s return after 15 months away from the Grand Slam stage because of two operations on his right knee. No. 1-ranked Novak Djokovic’s attempt to close within one major title of his rivals by getting his 19th, while also becoming the first man in the professional era to win each Slam tournament twice. Members of the younger set, such as Stefanos Tsitsipas and Alexander Zverev, are still trying to get a first, meanwhile.

Serena Williams, owner of 23 Slam singles trophies, is participating in the last French Open of her 30s. Naomi Osaka, who’s won four majors on hard courts, is trying to get past the third round at Roland Garros for the first time — after declaring she won’t speak to the media during the tournament. Two women can say they are defending French Open titles: 2020 champion Iga Swiatek, of course, but also 2019 champion Ash Barty, who did not enter the event last year because of the pandemic.

Osaka, who opens the proceedings at Court Philippe Chatrier against Patricia Maria Tig of Romania, is among a half-dozen major champions on the Day One schedule.

Nadal’s reign is so remarkable, so unprecedented, a 10-foot statue was unveiled in his honor at the place this week — a rare tribute to an active athlete.

“It’s true that I did something very special here in this event,” said Nadal, who turns 35 on Thursday.

He is 100-2 for his career at the French Open, 459-42 overall (.916 winning percentage) on clay, with 62 of his 88 titles on the surface, including 12 at Barcelona, 11 at Monte Carlo and 10 at Rome.

“For such a long time, I have been playing well during this part of the season,” Nadal said, by way of explanation. “Probably the clay adapts well to my game, no?”

There are so many measures of the man’s mastery, of course, but how about this one: The list of players who can boast of holding a winning record on clay against Nadal consists of Alex Corretja, Olivier Mutis and Andrey Rublev.

That’s the list.

Each is 1-0 against him.

“He’s one of the legends,” said Rublev, a 22-year-old from Russia who beat Nadal at Monte Carlo in April.

Over the years, Nadal’s infrequent losses on clay have become far more newsworthy than his victories.

What hasn’t changed from May 2005 to May 2021: As the French Open gets underway, the man from Mallorca is the man to beat.

“I play with passion, with clear goals and with love for the game, no? So that’s the main issues that I have been working on in my tennis career, no?” Nadal said. “Just keep playing with the right intensity and at the same time have enough passion to go on court every day and try to be better player. That’s the whole thing.”

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

Coco Gauff into French Open quarterfinals, where Iga Swiatek may await

Coco Gauff French Open

Coco Gauff swept into the French Open quarterfinals, where she could play Iga Swiatek in a rematch of last year’s final.

Gauff, the sixth seed, beat 100th-ranked Slovakian Anna Karolina Schmiedlova 7-5, 6-2 in the fourth round. She next plays Swiatek or 66th-ranked Ukrainian Lesia Tsurenko, who meet later Monday.

Gauff earned a 37th consecutive win over a player ranked outside the top 50, dating to February 2022. She hasn’t faced a player in the world top 60 in four matches at Roland Garros, but the degree of difficulty is likely to ratchet up in Wednesday’s quarterfinals.

Swiatek won all 12 sets she’s played against Gauff, who at 19 is the only teenager in the top 49 in the world.

FRENCH OPEN DRAWS: Women | Men | Broadcast Schedule

Also Monday, No. 7 seed Ons Jabeur of Tunisia dispatched 36th-ranked American Bernarda Pera 6-3, 6-1, breaking all eight of Pera’s service games.

Jabeur, runner-up at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open last year, has now reached the quarterfinals of all four majors.

Jabeur next faces 14th-seeded Beatriz Haddad Maia, who won 6-7 (3), 6-3, 7-5 over Spaniard Sara Sorribes Tormo, who played on a protected ranking of 68. Haddad Maia became the second Brazilian woman to reach a Grand Slam quarterfinal in the Open Era (since 1968) after Maria Bueno, who won seven majors from 1959-1966.

Pera, a 28 year-old born in Croatia, was the oldest U.S. singles player to make the fourth round of a major for the first time since Jill Craybas at 2005 Wimbledon. Her defeat left Gauff as the lone American singles player remaining out of the 35 entered in the main draws.

The last American to win a major singles title was Sofia Kenin at the 2020 Australian Open. The 11-major drought matches the longest in history (since 1877) for American men and women combined.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

U.S. earns first three-peat in Para hockey world championship history

Para Ice Hockey
International Paralympic Committee

The U.S. trounced rival Canada 6-1 to become the first nation to three-peat in world Para hockey championship history.

Tournament MVP Declan Farmer scored twice, and Josh Misiewicz, David Eustace, Jack Wallace and Kevin McKee added goals. Jen Lee made eight saves in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, on Sunday.

Farmer, who had nine goals in five games for the tournament, also scored twice in Paralympic final wins over Canada in 2018 and 2022 and the last world championship final against Canada in 2021. Farmer, 25, already owns the career national team record of more than 250 points.

The U.S. beat Canada in a third consecutive world final dating to 2019, but this was the most lopsided gold-medal game in championship history. The U.S. also won the last four Paralympic titles dating to 2010.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!