French Open Takeaways: Nadal in a class of his own at Roland Garros

Spain's Rafael Nadal bites the trophy as he celebrates winning the final match of the French Open tennis tournament against Serbia's Novak Djokovic in three sets, 6-0, 6-2, 7-5, at the Roland Garros stadium in Paris, France, Sunday, Oct. 11, 2020. (Michel Euler/AP)

The chilly, windy and damp fortnight at Roland Garros has now come to an end, and while the event didn’t have its usual atmospheric feel because of the limited crowds, we witnessed plenty of history at this year’s edition of the French Open.

Here are seven takeaways from Roland Garros 2020.

Nadal makes tennis history

There are three certainties in life. Death. Taxes. Rafael Nadal winning the French Open.

Rafael Nadal capped an almost flawless two weeks of tennis with a warning shot, dominating Novak Djokovic 6-0, 6-2, 7-5 to win his record thirteenth French Open crown and 20th major overall. The level in the final, was at times, breathtaking.

Nadal’s 20th grand slam ties him with Roger Federer for the most all-time among men’s singles players, while his 13 wins at the French Open stand alone as the most titles ever won at a single event. That fact didn’t seem to bother Roger Federer, who penned this classy message to his rival:

Nadal is now 100-2 at Roland Garros through his career, with his only losses coming in 2009 to Robin Soderling and 2015 to Novak Djokovic. His greatness at the French Open and on clay will be remembered as one of the most impressive feats in all of sport.

From Aga to Iga

The country of Poland has been keen to find a grand slam champion.

Former world number two Aga Radwanska came close, reaching the Wimbledon final in 2012, and notching 20 career titles.

Her influence perhaps paved the way for many young Polish competitors, including Iga Swiatek.

The unseeded 19 year-old bulldozed her way through the women’s field, eventually defeating Australian Open champion Sofia Kenin 6-4, 6-1 to win the Roland Garros crown, becoming the first player of Polish descent to ever capture a major.

Swiatek, who arrived at the event ranked 54th, played an enthralling brand of tennis through two weeks, with aggressive baseline tactics, exceptional court coverage and wonderful variation — changing rhythms with heavy topspin angles and under-spin drop shots.

She lost just 28 games over the entire event, a tournament that included a 6-1, 6-2 statement victory over consensus favourite Simona Halep.

Swiatek possesses remarkable talent and poise. Do your best in learning how to pronounce her name. It is one we might very well see for years to come.

Ranking is just a number?

Iga Swiatek wasn’t the only unseeded player wreaking havoc in Paris.

Both the men’s and women’s field were ripe with upsets and deep runs from unknown commodities.

131st-ranked Argentinian Nadia Podoroska became the first qualifier to ever reach the semifinals of a French Open, making the final four with a stunning upset of Elina Svitolina.

Italian Martina Trevisan, who had never won a grand slam match in her career, reached the quarterfinals with upset wins over Coco Gauff, Maria Sakkari and Kiki Bertens along the way.

20-year-old French qualifier Hugo Gaston, just 239th in the world, became an instant fan favourite with his brand of drop-shot tennis. The wise clay court tactic helped him reach the fourth round and force a five-set marathon with world No. 3 Dominic Thiem. Gaston hit 59 total drop shots in that match alone.

Other long shots included 75th-ranked Jannik Sinner, a teenaged Italian phenom who made his first grand slam quarterfinal, and 66th-ranked Laura Siegemund, a 32-year-old veteran of the WTA, who posted her best ever major result, also making the final eight.

The depth of both tours proves that anybody who can qualify for a grand slam event can play a high level of tennis and make some noise.

It’s cold out here!

Grand Slam tennis in Paris during the fall provides a stark difference weather-wise compared to what competitors are used to in the May and June months.

Much of the two weeks was filled with bitterly cold, damp weather, with temperatures sometimes falling below 10 degrees.

This year’s U.S. Open finalist, Victoria Azarenka, was particularly irate about the conditions early in the tournament.

Despite Azarenka and others’ displeasure with conditions, the tournament carried on without a hitch, apart from the odd rain delay.

Competitors adapted by donning long sleeved attire to stay warm.

Leylah’s rapid ascent continues in Paris

Just recently turned 18-year-old Leylah Fernandez has fond memories of Roland Garros. Last year in June of 2019, she became the first Canadian ever to win the French Open junior crown.

Now on the professional circuit full time, she has rapidly ascended the rankings, making a WTA final in Acapulco in February, reaching the quarterfinals in Monterrey, and returning from the tour’s six-month hiatus to win her first ever main draw grand slam match at the U.S. Open.

She took her major success one step further this year at Roland Garros, advancing to the third round before succumbing to Petra Kvitova in a tight 7-5, 6-3 loss.

Quebec’s young star is now inside the top 90 of the live rankings and her tremendous self belief will serve her well throughout what is sure to be a long, illustrious career.

Felix and Denis leave disappointed

Coming off one of the best stretches of his career, expectations were understandably high at the 2020 French Open for Denis Shapovalov.

The 21-year-old reached his first ever grand slam quarterfinal the previous month at the U.S. Open, and the stars appeared to be aligning as he broke into the top 10 of the ATP rankings with a semifinals result on the clay in Rome just one week before Roland Garros.

Instead, Shapovalov was erratic in a hard fought five set loss to Spaniard Roberto Carballes Baena.

Felix Auger-Aliassime who’s had past success on clay, bowed out in the first round of this year’s event to Yoshihito Nishioka 7-5, 6-3, 6-3.

Auger-Aliassime will look to hit the reset button promptly and try and finish out his 2020 campaign strong.

Line Calls remain controversial

It is now 2020, and the French Open is still the only major in tennis that does not make use of any technology for line reviews.

Instead, they rely on the human eye, from its chair umpire and linespersons to get it right, and review ball marks that are left on the red surface.

This is of course not full proof and leads to many missed calls throughout the tournament, some which can have enormous impacts on results.

Denis Shapovalov was particularly irate after a missed call came in the late stages of his second round loss, voicing his displeasure on Twitter afterward:

Electronic call review systems such as Hawk-Eye and Foxtenn remain readily available, and are widely used on television broadcasts, as viewers will often see in real time if a call was correct or completely missed. It’s time for the French Tennis Federation to leave the dark ages and accept the available technology at their event.

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