Rafael Nadal - Roland Garros 2022

Rafa Nadal’s 5 greatest Roland-Garros moments

Rafael Nadal has been labelled as the ‘king of clay’, primarily due to his dominance at Roland Garros, so we at Tennishead have listed five of his greatest moments at the clay major.

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1. Rafael Nadal’s first Roland Garros title (2005)

Kicking off this list is Nadal’s first Roland Garros triumph back in 2005, when the Spaniard was only a teenager.

Nadal headed into the Paris major in sensational form, having won 17 consecutive matches to claim the biggest titles of his career at the time in Monte Carlo, Barcelona and Rome.

As a result, Nadal climbed inside the top 5 of the ATP rankings for the first time in his career and made his debut at Roland Garros as one of the favourites.

The Mallorcan lived up to his hype, reaching the semi-finals without dropping a set, beating the likes of Lars Burgsmuller, Xavier Malisse, Richard Gasquet, Sebastien Grosjean and David Ferrer.

It was a step up in opponent for Nadal in the semi-final, as he faced world No.1 Roger Federer on his 19th birthday.

But, Nadal rose to the challenge and beat Federer in four sets to become one of only four players to beat the Swiss in 2005.

Nadal came up against the unseeded Mariano Puerta in the final, and despite losing the first set he fought back to win his first Roland Garros and Grand Slam title.

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By doing so, Nadal became the second man to win Roland Garros on his first attempt alongside Mats Wilander (1982), with his 24-match winning streak breaking Andre Agassi’s Open Era record for most consecutive wins as a teenager.

2. Surpassing Bjorn Borg’s Open Era record (2012)

Following his maiden Roland Garros triumph in 2005, Rafael Nadal went onto win the tournament for the next three years, with his first defeat at the tournament coming to Robin Soderling in 2009.

However, this only temporarily halted Nadal’s dominance at the Paris major, as he went onto win the tournament in 2010 and 2011 to equal Bjorn Borg’s Open Era record of six Roland Garros titles.

In 2012, Nadal came into Roland Garros in sensational form once again, winning titles in Monte Carlo, Barcelona and Rome, with his only defeat on clay coming at the Madrid Masters to Fernando Verdasco.

At Roland Garros, second seed Nadal cruised to the final without dropping a set, to set up another major final meeting with world No.1 Novak Djokovic.

This was the fourth consecutive Grand Slam final that the pair had met, with Djokovic winning the previous three.

Rain delays played a big part in this final, causing the match to be concluded on the Monday afternoon, but the outcome was much the same as previous Roland Garros tournaments.

Nadal beat Djokovic, 6-4 6-3 2-6 7-5, to win a historic seventh Roland Garros title and moved ahead of Bjorn Borg with the men’s Open Era record.

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3. La Decima (2017)

Since winning Roland Garros in 2014, Rafael Nadal faced a Grand Slam drought with the Spaniard unable to surpass a major quarter-final until 2017.

Although he did not manage to win the Australian Open, Nadal made his return to a Grand Slam final where he was beaten by Stan Wawrinka.

This set the Mallorcan up nicely ahead of his favoured clay court swing, with the number 10 being a very prominent theme for Nadal in 2017.

Nadal won his 10th Monte Carlo Masters and Barcelona Open titles to set an Open Era record, and he continued his dominant form by winning the Madrid Masters.

Entering the tournament as the fourth seed, Nadal reclaimed authority at Roland Garros by winning every single match in straight sets and dropped only 35 games in seven matches.

In the final, Nadal enacted revenge over the aforementioned Wawrinka to become the first player to win 10 titles at a single major in the Open Era.

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4. Rafael Nadal becomes most successful player at single Grand Slam tournament (2019)

Unsurprisingly, Nadal also went onto win the Roland Garros title in 2018 and moved level with Margaret Court for most titles at a single major tournament.

In previous years, Nadal had been dominant throughout the clay court swing, but that was not the case in 2019.

At the Monte Carlo Masters, the Spaniard was stunned by eventual champion Fabio Fognini and by Dominic Thiem in Barcelona.

Nadal was also defeated at the semi-final stage of the Madrid Masters by Stefanos Tsitsipas, but recovered to win his first title of the year at the Italian Open after beating Novak Djokovic in the final.

This win in Rome propelled Nadal on heading into his beloved Roland Garros, where he dropped only one set en route to the final (vs David Goffin in the third round).

In a rematch of the 2018 final, Nadal would recover from his Barcelona defeat to beat Thiem, 6-3 5-7 6-1 6-1, to win his 12th Roland Garros title.

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This confirmed that he would move ahead of Court’s 11 Australian Open titles, as the player with the most titles at a single Grand Slam tournament.

5. Rafael Nadal wins historic 22nd Grand Slam title (2022)

After obtaining a rib stress fracture at Indian Wells, Nadal had to miss the Monte Carlo Masters and Barcelona Open before returning in Madrid.

Nadal won his first two matches back, before losing to teenage compatriot and eventual champion Carlos Alcaraz in the quarter-final.

There were some concerning signs for Nadal in Rome, who faced his earliest exit since 2008 after being beaten by Denis Shapovalov in the third round.

The Spaniard appeared to be hampered by a foot injury in this match, forcing him to take injections to enable him to compete at Roland Garros.

These injections appeared to be working, with Nadal winning his first three matches in straight sets before facing his uncle/former coaches new player in Felix Auger-Aliassime.

It was in this match that Auger-Aliassime became only the third player in history to take Nadal to five sets at Roland Garros, but the Canadian met the fate of many others and was defeated on Court Philippe Chatrier.

This set up a quarter-final clash with rival Novak Djokovic, with Nadal emerging victorious in a four set match to reach his 15th Roland Garros semi-final.

It was in this semi-final that Nadal faced Alexander Zverev, with the first two sets lasting three hours before the German suffered a serious ankle injury that forced him to retire from the match,

Nadal would go onto play his academy graduate Casper Ruud in the final, beating the Norwegian in straight sets to win a 14th Roland Garros title and 22nd Grand Slam.

Since winning his first title at Roland Garros in 2005, Nadal has won 112 of his 115 matches at the tournament, with his only defeats coming to Djokovic (2) and Soderling.

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Matthew Johns, Tennishead Writer, is a professional tennis journalist with a specialist degree in Sports Journalism. He's a keen tennis player having represented his local club and University plus he's also a qualified tennis coach. Matthew has a deep knowledge of tennis especially the ATP Tour and thrives on breaking big tennis news stories for Tennishead.