The men's final at Roland Garros provided something sporting contests rarely do — the foreknowledge that, irrespective of the result, history will be made. There was a brief period in this rain-blighted encounter when it seemed that top seeded Novak Djokovic would become the first man in 43 years to win four consecutive Grand Slam championships. But in the end, it was Rafael Nadal who underlined his brooding and belligerent mastery over clay by winning his seventh French Open, surpassing the record set by another genius with a totally contrasting style — the phlegmatic and stolidly calm Björn Borg. That Nadal is the greatest clay court player in the modern era is an opinion that many subscribed to even a few years ago. His victory at the French Open — when his rough-edged, muscular exuberance overcame the all-round skills of the gifted Djokovic — will erase any shadows of residual doubt for those who nursed them. Nadal's record on clay speaks for itself. In Grand Slam and ATP World Tour matches, he has a staggering 254-19 win-loss record, a better ratio than that of Borg (245-39) and other clay court greats such as Ivan Lendl (329-75). Moreover, Nadal has already won 36 clay court titles against Borg's 30 and Lendl's 28.
Nadal's game — founded on heavy topspin and great reserves of strength and patience — is ideal for a surface with a slow and high bounce. Of course, he is so much more than a clay court wonder. His career has been marked by a doggedness that has seen him come to grips with different surfaces. Those who believed his game was unsuited for grass, which plays fast and low, had to eat their words as his gradual improvement on the surface yielded two Wimbledon titles. His performance on hard courts has been pretty impressive as well and his record of having won all four Grand Slams is proof of his all-court ability. With 11 Grand Slams under his belt, Nadal has already shown he is one of the greats of the modern era. His game is built around an astonishing fleetness of foot, an uncanny instinct for anticipation and retrieval, a strenuously unorthodox style that delivers a huge package of power, and the patience and intensity to wear down and dishearten his opponent. For years now, some commentators have claimed that his style of play — marked by over-exertion — is programmed for injury-inflicted breakdown. His somewhat off-colour performance last year was regarded by some as proof of their dire predictions. But the Spaniard has again shown that he cannot be written off lightly. And that you can never underestimate the power of perseverance and resilience.