You know it is June when Rafael Nadal falls on his back at Roland Garros and wins the French Open. Nadal had already built an Eiffel Tower-sized stack of records on clay. But his most recent triumph in Paris, his eighth, took him further beyond the reach of other mortals.
Nadal is the only male player in the Open Era (1968 onwards) of tennis to win a major tournament eight times. Pete Sampras and Roger Federer dominated Wimbledon, but they won it seven times each. Bjorn Borg ruled at Wimbledon and French Open both, winning them five and six times, respectively. That is still short of Nadal’s eight trophies at Roland Garros.
But if the entire history of tennis is considered, Nadal has an equivalent. Frenchman Max Decugis also won the French Open eight times (1903, 1904, 1907, 1908, 1909, 1912, 1913 and 1914). Decugis also won the doubles title on 14 occasions, and the mixed seven times. He could not defend his singles title in 1915 due to World War I. Decugis, who died in 1978 at the age of 95, also won six Olympic medals in tennis.
But the similarity between Decugis and Nadal’s records at the French Open is only statistical. The tournament was open only to French players when Decugis played. And tennis was not the blood-and-grit affair it is today.
Nadal is only 27 and it is almost certain he will win the French Open at least two more times. In that case, he would have a mind-boggling 10 titles, another milestone unlikely to ever be matched. Logic dictates that in addition he could win four or five titles at other Grand Slam tournaments. By the time he finishes, he could very well have almost 20 Grand Slam titles. These would take him beyond Roger Federer, who at present leads the race with 17 majors.