ATP

Rafa's last dance: Nadal's farewell shot at Roland-Garros glory

By Sports Desk May 25, 2024

Rafael Nadal is about to step out at Roland-Garros for the final time.

The Spanish great - a 22-time grand slam champion – is set for his farewell appearance at the French Open, which he has won a record 14 times.

It seems unlikely the soon-to-be 38-year-old will extend that record on Court Philippe-Chatrier over the coming two weeks, though of course you never know.

Familiar foe Novak Djokovic goes in with better odds than Nadal, as the world number one aims to retain his crown.

Yet, there is the new generation of superstars looking to take control, and on Nadal's farewell appearance at the tournament he has dominated, it would be fitting if the baton was handed over to Carlos Alcaraz, Jannik Sinner or another star of the next generation.

Let's dive into the data ahead of the 2024 French Open.

 

Rafa's last dance

We couldn't start anywhere else. What an icon Nadal has been, especially at Roland-Garros, and you would be a brave punter to bet against anyone matching or bettering his haul of 14 titles in Paris.

Nadal is one of two players to have won 10 men's singles titles at a single major, along with Djokovic at the Australian Open (10 titles).

The Spaniard holds a 100 per cent winning record in the French Open final, while he has also taken the Roland-Garros crown on four occasions without dropping a single set (2008, 2010, 2017 and 2020).

His tally of 112 matches won at the French Open is more than any other player has managed when it comes to match wins at a single major, seven ahead of Roger Federer's tally of 105 at Wimbledon.

Indeed, Nadal's win percentage at Roland-Garros (97.4 per cent) is the best of any player at a single grand slam. He has only lost three of his 115 matches at the French Open and only two opponents have managed to beat him there – Djokovic (twice) and Robin Soderling.

Nadal's best consecutive run of matches won at the French Open is 39, which is only bettered by Bjorn Borg at Wimbledon (41) and Federer in the US Open and Wimbledon (40 at each tournament) in the Open Era.

Only Djokovic, Margaret Court (24 each) and Serena Williams (23) have won more major titles than Nadal, while only Djokovic and Federer have appeared in more grand slam men's singles finals than Nadal in the Open Era.

Yet, if he is to dazzle the Paris crowd in one last dance at Roland-Garros, he is going to have to do it the hard way, having been drawn against world number four Alexander Zverev.

The German is coming off the back of claiming his second Italian Open title, becoming the third player since 2000 to win that tournament on multiple occasions, after Nadal (10) and Djokovic (six).

A good omen for Rafa, perhaps, is that he is the only player with over 10 wins against top-five opponents at Roland-Garros since the ATP Rankings were published in 1974, with 20 such victories.

Should he make it beyond Zverev, Nadal could have a relatively kind run to the last 16, in which Holger Rune may be waiting. Daniil Medvedev or Alex de Minaur would be the quarter-final opponent before a potential semi against Djokovic, and a possible final against Nadal's heir apparent in Alcaraz.

Nadal is not the only modern great who is set to make his farewell French Open appearance. Andy Murray has indicated he will retire in the coming months, too.

Djokovic the defender

The spotlight might be on Nadal, but Djokovic is the defending title and is out to make history, as he bids to surpass Court's record of 24 majors and become the outright leader for grand slam titles across men's and women's singles events.

Aged 36 years and 20 days, Djokovic became the oldest winner of the men's singles at Roland-Garros in the Open Era when he triumphed last year. Djokovic is one of two players in the Open Era aged 35 or over to win the event, along with Nadal (2022).

Since the start of the 2020 season, three players have registered 50 or more men’s singles match wins at grand slam events, with Djokovic leading the way (86), ahead of Medvedev (59) and Zverev (56). 

Djokovic is out to become the second player in the Open Era to secure a major singles title after turning 37, along with Ken Rosewall at the Australian Open in 1972.

In the event he reaches the quarter-final barring walkovers, Djokovic will surpass Federer (369) for the most men's singles match wins at grand slams in the Open Era. Djokovic is currently on 366. 

At least one of Federer, Nadal or Djokovic has made the men's singles final at Roland-Garros since 2005. Expect the three-time French Open champion to go on a deep run again.

The contenders

Alcaraz can't be discounted. The world number three has yet to reach a French Open final, but is the youngest player in the Open Era to reach the round of 16 at seven consecutive majors.

Competing against the two-time grand slam champion is Sinner, who is now above Alcaraz in the ATP rankings.

He is the player with the highest winning percentage so far in 2024 (93.3 per cent, 28-2), and is also only the second Italian in the Open Era to hold a top-three seed in the men's singles at Roland-Garros after Adriano Panatta (1977), who was defending champion that year.

Zverev is in fine form, Medvedev is always dangerous and Casper Ruud is strong on clay.

Only three unseeded players have won the men’s singles title at Roland-Garros in the Open Era – Mats Wilander (1982), Gustavo Kuerten (1997) and Gaston Gaudio (2004). Do not expect that to change this time around. 

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