More specifically, winning a 20th grand slam title to equal pal and fellow “Big Three” member Roger Federer’s men’s all-time record.
He did so by beating the other member of the elite group, Novak Djokovic, 6-0 6-2 7-5, under the roof on Philippe Chatrier Court amid Paris’ late afternoon autumnal chill.
Nadal sunk to his knees after an ace on championship point in what was a surprisingly lopsided finale to the fortnight.
But this is indeed Nadal on clay. He said the tournament’s new balls and cool weather don’t favor his spin heavy game — the coronavirus pandemic prompted organizers to move the event from its usual late May start — but the 34-year-old Spaniard overcame the conditions to tally a 13th French Open crown without dropping a set and 100th Roland Garros match victory.
He elevated his game to oust his conqueror in his lone warmup tournament, Diego Schwartzman, in the semifinals before stepping it up another notch Sunday.
Nadal compiled 31 winners to only 14 unforced errors to hand the 17-time grand slam winner the worst loss in any of his 27 grand slam finals. Nadal has never lost a French Open final but Djokovic certainly seemed to present danger for him in the finale.
He had won their last three grand slam matches and they were huge blows to Nadal — including in the quarterfinals at Roland Garros five years ago.
The Serb had only suffered defeat in one match in 2020 — that default at the US Open last month against Pablo Carreno Busta — and benefited from more buildup matches in the past two months than his rival.
Djokovic suffered neck and shoulder issues in his rematch with Carreno Busta on Wednesday, when he donned long sleeves, and one couldn’t help but wonder if something was bothering the world No. 1 again.
The long sleeves were back, two days after he sported short sleeves in his semifinal against Stefanos Tsitsipas that started in the evening and ended around 10:30 p.m. local time. He reverted to the short sleeves after he fell behind by two sets.
He lost a set 6-0 at a major for only the fourth time in his grand slam career according to website Tennis Abstract and even though Djokovic has used the drop shot extensively on the clay, he attempted an eye-catching four in the first game.
His unforced error tally soared to 52.
He was broken from 40-15 in the opening game to give Nadal the best possible start in front of the limited number of fans in attendance. They were capped at 1,000 amid the pandemic.
The duo exchanged several extended rallies that saw both players well outside the doubles lines, Nadal habitually coming out on top.
Djokovic was given a small glimmer of hope by saving a trio of break points to begin the second yet the respite didn’t linger.
In his next service game, Nadal did break through for a 2-1 advantage.
With Djokovic unable to put away a shot near the net, Nadal crushed a forehand down the line to rub salt in the wounds.
Djokovic’s play was a clear marker that he wouldn’t be the first man in 83 tries to rally from two sets down against Nadal at Roland Garros and an inevitable break came at 2-2 in the third after Nadal continued to knock on the door.
However, it wasn’t straight forward from there.
Nadal was broken for the first time and Djokovic got the crowd going with his emphatic celebration.
It kickstarted a brief renaissance as he went ahead 4-3 in the third.
Djokovic was now moving better and launching himself into shots but Nadal met the challenge and yelled “come on” to hold for 4-4. Finally it was a contest.
Djokovic fended off a break point thanks a gutsy second serve, backhand combination, but cracked at 5-5 on a double fault wide.
Nadal then served it out to love, capping the historic contest with the ace out wide to seal another French Open victory.