Rafael Nadal won his 12th French Open in Paris on Sunday. At an even dozen, he has now won enough titles there to make ranking them an interesting exercise. Here is our countdown of Nadal’s Roland Garros championships — from 12 to 1, in reverse order of importance — including Sunday’s victory over Dominic Thiem.
12. 2011: Nadal d. Roger Federer [7-5, 7-6 (3), 5-7, 6-1]
It’s amazing. Nadal did not play a five-set match at Roland Garros until he defeated John Isner in the first round in 2011. The breadth of styles he faced on his way to his sixth title is noteworthy. Among them: another hard server, Ivan Ljubicic; his familiar nemesis, Robin Soderling; and a gifted returner and tactician, Andy Murray.
11. 2007: Nadal d. Federer [6-3, 4-6, 6-3, 6-4]
The list of players he defeated in 2007 is impressive, although Nadal’s timing was fortunate: Juan Martin del Potro was rusty from an injury layoff, Lleyton Hewitt was rapidly fading, Carlos Moya, a mentor, wasn’t always an intense competitor, and semifinal opponent Novak Djokovic was still developing. Nevertheless, Nadal beat them all.
10. 2008: Nadal d. Federer [6-1, 6-3, 6-0]
This astonishing beatdown of top-ranked Federer was the first time Nadal, ranked No. 2 at the time, decimated a French Open draw without the loss of a set. And it was no cupcake draw, either. Starting with the fourth round, he defeated Fernando Verdasco, Nicolas Almagro, Djokovic and Federer. Almost a decade later, Nadal would recall that effort with special pride, saying the win over Djokovic contained some of the best tennis he had ever played.
9. 2014: Nadal d. Djokovic [3-6, 7-5, 6-2, 6-4]
Thank goodness there’s such a plethora of records to smash, because otherwise Nadal might have grown bored with his own success at the French Open. In 2014, Nadal became the only man to win five consecutive French Open titles — something neither Bjorn Borg nor any of the vaunted French “Musketeers” had been able to do in days of yore. Ranked and seeded No. 1, Nadal dismissed a young Thiem in the second round and posted successive victories over Murray and Djokovic in the semifinals and finals, respectively.
8. 2017: Nadal d. Stan Wawrinka [6-2, 6-3, 6-1]
Rarely has a player ripped through a clay-court draw with as much gusto and focus. Nadal lost a total of just 35 games (and no sets) in his seven matches, despite playing such clay-conversant players as Thiem, Roberto Bautista Agut, Pablo Carreno Busta and final opponent Wawrinka, who had mastered Djokovic to win the 2015 final.
7. 2018: Nadal d. Thiem [6-4, 6-3, 6-2]
The only player who had previously won 11 titles at a Grand Slam was Margaret Court, but she won seven of her 11 Australian Open titles back when the Slams were still restricted to amateurs. This was also Nadal’s 17th Grand Slam title overall. At this tournament, Nadal also joined Federer, Rod Laver and Ken Rosewall as men who won three or more majors after the age of 30. The only player to take a set off Nadal was diminutive clay-court expert Diego Schwartzman.
6. 2012: Nadal d. Djokovic [6-4, 6-3, 2-6, 7-5]
This was the title that established Nadal as the undisputed King of Clay because it surpassed the six-title record held by clay icon Borg. Nadal did not have a particularly difficult draw (he didn’t lose a set until the final), but Djokovic still had that invincible aura created by his spectacular 2011. Djokovic also had a 2-2 record against Nadal in their most recent clay-court battles. But when they met in a French Open final for the first time, the message from Nadal was clear: not in my house!
5. 2010: Nadal d. Robin Soderling [6-4, 6-2, 6-4]
Big-serve, big-forehand Swede Soderling had ended Nadal’s Roland Garros unbeaten streak of 31 matches in the 2009 fourth round. Nadal was diminished in that event by knee tendinitis, so much so that he left the tour to recuperate and missed the chance to defend his Wimbledon title. Coming back in ’10, Nadal himself had to wonder if he could possibly be dominant again. What better way than by slashing through a relatively good draw without the loss of a set, then beating the man who had ended his winning streak a year earlier, Soderling?
4. 2005: Nadal d. Mariano Puerta [6-7 (6), 6-3, 6-1, 7-5]
Denied the opportunity to vie for — and probably win — the 2004 French Open at the age of 18 by a thumb injury, Nadal was a whirlwind during his debut on Parisian clay. His spectacular rise had already produced a world No. 2 ranking. He ripped through a number of quality players, including Frenchmen Richard Gasquet and Sebastian Grosjean, setting up his first Grand Slam clash with Federer in the semifinals. Nadal won it in four sets, then crushed Puerta — who would soon thereafter be suspended for violating the tour’s prohibition against performance-enhancing drugs.
3. 2006: Nadal d. Federer [1-6, 6-1, 6-4, 7-6 (4)]
Any top player will tell you that the toughest assignment for the first-time winner of a major is defending the title successfully. Though barely 20 years old, Nadal defeated two of the only men who ever would take his measure at Roland Garros — Soderling (Round 1) and Djokovic (who retired with a mysterious sinus ailment during their quarterfinal, with Nadal up two sets to none). Though ranked and seeded No. 2, Nadal triumphed over top-ranked Federer in a four-set final. This is the tournament that put the King of Clay on the path to his coronation.
2. 2013: Nadal d. David Ferrer [6-2, 6-2, 6-3]
This might not have been one of Nadal’s smoothest paths to the final, but years later he would call it the one he feels “most proud” of. The reason? He competed for most of that year with a bad knee, making it impossible for him to practice. With the victory, Nadal became the first man to win eight Grand Slam titles at the same major. Nadal lost sets in his first two matches, and it took him until 9-7 in the fifth to beat No. 1-ranked Djokovic in the semifinals. It was a monumental struggle for Nadal, culminating with an anticlimactic straight-sets win in the final.
1. 2019: Nadal d. Thiem [6-3, 5-7, 6-1, 6-1]
We’re not going to be prejudiced against this one just because it’s fresh in our minds. The reality is that Nadal turned 33 this month, he missed much of last year due to his chronic knee tendinitis, the French Open is the most arduous of the majors — and who knows how long Nadal will still be around? Returning from that injury layoff at the Australian Open, he was shellacked in the final by Djokovic and then had — for Nadal — a so-so clay season. Yet he raced through an admittedly kind draw this fortnight, dropping just two sets, eliminated resurgent rival Federer in the semifinals and then claimed a mind-boggling 12th French Open.