The winner of the 2013 French Open is … Rafael Nadal.
Overall, it was a straight forward three-set victory for the No. 3 seeded Nadal over fellow Spaniard and the No. 4 seed, David Ferrer (6-3, 6-2, 6-3), but it may have been the most historic victory of his great career.
Rafa’s win was his eighth at Roland Garros, which is more than any other man at a single Grand Slam event. Before his win on Sunday, he was tied with Pete Sampras and Roger Federer with seven wins at a single Grand Slam. Both Federer and Sampras won their seven at Wimbledon.
Perhaps even more stunning, though, is his 59-1 career record at the French, which is also a record for match wins on the red clay. His only career loss in Paris came against Robin Soderling in the fourth round of the 2009 French Open.
But there is another added element to this win for Nadal, which makes it that much more impressive. This was the first Grand Slam event in which he had competed in almost a year.
After a stunning loss in the second round of Wimbledon, he withdrew from the U.S. Open and the Olympics last summer due to a torn patella tendon in his left knee, the effects of which were still evident on Sunday with his knee bandaged up. He then withdrew from the Australian Open as well, this time due to a stomach virus. In all, Rafa had to miss seven months due to his knee injury and illness.
With the win on Sunday, he became the first player to win a Grand Slam after missing the past two, which is another truly remarkable feat.
“It’s one of the most special ones,” Nadal told CNN.
“In the last year I have had some low moments but without my family I would not have done this,” Nadal said. “Without my physio I could not have done this. I never realized something like this could happen for me.”
But after missing that amount of time, one would have forgiven the greatest clay court tennis player of all time for being a little rusty when he returned. Instead, he has amassed a 43-2 record and seven tournament titles since he returned in February.
Sure, he did look a little rusty at times during the French Open, but he still managed to overcome any challenge thrown his way.
The greatest threat to his eighth French Open championship was the No. 1 player in the world, Novak Djokovic. The two battled it out for five sets during their semifinal match on Friday, but Rafa was able to come away with the victory in added time with a 9-7 victory in the fifth set.
The challenges even came before that, though, with a first set loss in each of his first three matches at Roland Garros.
But in the end, the “King of Clay” did what he does best in Paris: win.
Now, he is also six wins away from what would be his most historic win yet — an 18th Grand Slam title. Rafa now has 12 Grand Slams in his career, which puts him one step closer to tying and then leapfrogging Roger Federer’s 17 titles.
While that may be a daunting task even for Nadal, it isn’t entirely outside the realm of possibility if he continues to play like this at the French. Unless someone else figures out how to maneuver around the red clay at least half as well as the 27-year-old, he could keep winning at Roland Garros for a long time.
Yes, there were protesters at the finals who tried to ruin a great day for tennis, but they failed. Today wasn’t about them, rather, it was about the achievements of Rafael Nadal.