With 12 titles to his name, Rafael Nadal is the most successful player in Roland Garros history. Apart from leaving an indelible mark in Paris, he has provided countless memorable moments throughout the years.
ATPTour.com takes a look back at five of his biggest highlights at this event.
To Paris On Crutches
Two injuries delayed Nadal’s Roland Garros debut. In 2003, he hurt his right elbow while training in Manacor. The following year, he picked up a stress fracture in his left foot during his win in Estoril against Richard Gasquet.
Nadal’s agent, Carlos Costa, convinced Nadal to visit two of his sponsors at 2004 Roland Garros. Although the trip was only for a couple of days, the former No. 10 in the FedEx ATP Rankings believed it would be good for Nadal to familiarise himself with the surroundings and discover the charm of Court Philippe Chatrier.
The teenager boarded a plane with his crutches and made his way around the tournament on them. For his introduction to Court Philippe Chatrier, Nadal went to the top of the stands with Costa.
“We went to watch a Robredo match and [Nadal] was only able to stay there for 10 minutes,” Costa recalled. “He couldn’t be in the stands instead of on the court. That was when I realised he was a champion.
“On the street, without me asking, he told me he couldn’t be there any longer. He said that he was broken because it wasn’t his turn to win, that he would have to win when he played there for the first time.”
On 5 June 2005, Nadal climbed into one of the boxes in the stadium to celebrate with this team after beating Mariano Puerta 6-7(6), 6-3, 6-1, 7-5 to win his first crown in Paris. The critics labelled him as the favourite, but the victory was still extraordinary for the 19-year-old.
“I told you I would do it!”, Nadal shouted to Costa when it was his turn for a high-five in the stands.
Zidane & The First Title
Rafael Nadal collected his first Coupe des Mousquetaires from the hands of Zinedine Zidane, the French football legend and Real Madrid’s current manager. For Nadal, well-known for his love of football, it was hugely exciting to receive his first Roland Garros trophy from Zidane.
Back in the locker room, Nadal was drinking a soft drink. He had a short conversation with Jaime Lissavetzky, then-Secretary of State for Sport in Jose Luis Rodríguez Zapatero’s government in Spain. Later, still dressed in his green sleeveless t-shirt and white pirate pants he had worn in the match against Puerta, the player sat on a wooden bench with the trophy as his team continued to recall moments from the match.
Two special guests then approached Nadal to congratulate him and have their photo taken with him: 1977 Roland Garros champion Guillermo Villas and Gustavo Kuerten, former No. 1 and three-time champion in Paris (1997, 2000, 2001).
Mats Wilander, another three-time champion in Paris (1982, 1985, 1988) also asked for a photo. The Swede had been the last player to win the tournament on his first attempt before Nadal accomplished the feat.
But nobody in the room, not even Nadal himself, could imagine on that afternoon that they had just witnessed the birth of the best tennis player of all time on clay.
With Nadal looking to break the record for most titles won in Paris with his seventh Roland Garros crown, rain pushed the end of his 2012 final against Novak Djokovic to Monday.
The match was delayed that evening in Paris as Nadal led Djokovic 6-4, 6-3, 2-6, 1-2. However, the Serbian was in the midst of a comeback after winning eight consecutive games from 0-2 in the third set.
Nadal was unable to sleep that night or calm the butterflies in his stomach as he lay in his room. It was almost midnight and Nadal was still restless, his mind on Djokovic’s comeback.
In a desperate attempt to relax, Nadal opened his computer and started watching Dragon Ball, the successful cartoon series inspired by Akira Toriyama’s manga. He managed to stop his mind from churning and was able to fall asleep.
Heavy rain meant the match was restarted on Monday at 13:00. Nadal won back the service break in the fourth set and prevailed 6-4, 6-3, 2-6, 7-5 to win his seventh Coupe des Mousquetaires, surpassing Bjorn Borg’s record to become the most prolific winner in the tournament’s history.
“Call An Ambulance!”
After holding the Coupe des Mousquetaires for the ninth time at 2014 Roland Garros by defeating Djokovic 3-6, 7-5, 6-2, 6-4, Nadal climbed into his team’s box to celebrate. When he reached Toni Nadal, his uncle and coach, the Spaniard covered his mouth and whispered into his ear that he needed an ambulance.
“He had been having cramps since the third set and he asked me to call an ambulance,” Toni explained. “I spoke to Angel Ruiz Cotorro [Nadal’s doctor] because he told me he didn’t have any saline solution. Afterwards, he went to see the doctor and he got better.
“Rafael was worse than Djokovic because he had cramps. Playing for an hour with cramps makes you hesitant all the time. You know that you have to run more than normal, that you have to be cautious. And that’s why the match required a few moments of brilliance. He knew that if we didn’t win it in the fourth set, it would be difficult to do so in the fifth.”
Nadal reiterated this when he spoke to journalists after the match.
“This was the French Open in which I’ve suffered the most physically,” Nadal said. “There have been moments when I felt very empty, very tired. I don’t know what would’ve happened in the fifth set. I guess I would’ve tried to find strength from somewhere, but I was really in a bad way and very much at my physical limit.
“Passion, motivation, the desire to win… All of that keeps you on court with the mentality that you want to do it. I don’t know what it was, but for whatever reason, I managed to handle it. I was able to suffer and find solutions. I coped with the physically difficult moments with very high-quality tennis. In one way or another, I found a way to win this title.”
A Replica Of The Coupe Des Mousquetaires
To celebrate Nadal’s 10th title at 2017 Roland Garros, a historic moment in the world of sport, the tournament decided to present him with a replica of the Coupe des Mousquetaires with “Rafa Nadal’s Tenth” engraved on it, something that has never been done for any other champion.
The tournament organisers had decided that the Spaniard should be the first player of all time to keep a Coupe des Mousquetaires, having won it on 10 occasions.
Normally, Roland Garros champions pose with the trophy after the final and the next day at an iconic part of the city, but the one they take home is a small replica. However, the tournament organisers decided to make a life-size replica of the Coupe des Mousquetaires that Nadal could display it in the museum of the Rafa Nadal Academy.
In addition, Roland Garros wanted to recognise Nadal’s 10th victory with a couple of special moments during the ceremony. Firstly, the fans in the stands held up cards to form an enormous mosaic that read “Bravo Rafa”, together with a huge 10 in reference to his 10 titles at the tournament. Toni Nadal was also given the honour of making a surprise appearance on court to present his nephew with a special trophy, breaking from the usual protocol.