Rafael Nadal’s comprehensive dismantling of Dominic Thiem in the semis of the 2017 French Open now puts him one away from an incredible achievement: a tenth Roland Garros singles title. This is surely one of the most amazing accomplishments in tennis history. To put it in context, let’s have a look at several other noteworthy efforts:
+ Beginning with her 1974 win at Roland Garros, Chris Evert won at least one Grand Slam singles title a year for 13 straight years. This was vivid proof to Evert’s superb weaponry, consistency and, like Nadal, ravenous desire to compete.
+ Pete Sampras and Roger Federer have each won seven Wimbledon singles titles. Each ranks among the greatest gunslingers ever, supremely adept at striking the right shot at the right time. If Wimbledon is somewhat different than Roland Garros as a physical showcase, the quick-handed qualities of grass compel a big nod of appreciation for these two greats.
+ Across four decades, Martina Navratilova won 59 Open Era Slam titles - remarkably versatile, athletic and commanding. Included in this were nine Wimbledon singles crowns earned in three different decades.
+ Jimmy Connors won the US Open singles title on three different surfaces - grass, clay, hard. Such were the boom years of tennis, when the game was rapidly trying to concoct its formula for success.
+ Bjorn Borg three times won Roland Garros and Wimbledon back-to-back - this at a time when clay was slower, grass was faster and there were dangerous contenders on each of the two surfaces. Borg’s unique athletic package - stamina and speed most of all - made him eerily able to both adapt and adhere across this challenging transition period.
+ The world is different than it was in Borg’s time. Surfaces are much more homogenous. Ditto for the prevalent playing style, which today mostly falls into a forceful brand of attrition, dominated by groundstrokes. That so many can play that well on surfaces like clay adds yet more significance to Nadal’s track record. But even more, having turned 31 last Saturday, Nadal is seeking to join Ken Rosewall and Sampras as the only men to have won Grand Slam singles titles in their teens, 20s and 30s - perhaps the biggest testimony of all to excellence over time.
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