As some of you might know, my wife Amy is a longtime Rafael Nadal fan. As the greatest clay-courter of all time lifted the trophy for the eighth time, I thought it would be interesting to see how she would rank all eight French Opens. So, without further ado, here is her multi-part answer to my question, in descending order:
First word that comes to mind: Relief
The Good: I loved the quarterfinal win against Soderling. I remember worrying quite a bit about Nadal’s form heading into that match, and I remember being reminded once again at his ability to raise his level when he needed it most.
The Bad: The easy choice is to say the Isner match, but I honestly feel that form-wise, the Andujar one was worse.
The Random: John Isner, and not Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic, David Ferrer, or any other human being, became the first person (and only, until last Friday) to push Rafa to five sets on clay at Roland Garros. Enough said.
First word that comes to mind: Calm
The Good: I’ve always found his matches with Lleyton Hewitt to be entertaining, and that year’s contest was no different.
The Bad: The first set against Novak Djokovic in the semifinal. It became unnecessarily complicated. I remember thinking he should win the set 6-1 or 6-2, and instead, he won it 7-5.
The Random: I was visiting you (Juan Jose) in Ecuador during a good chunk of the tournament – I flew home the day Rafa played Moya in the quarterfinals, and if he had lost that match, I don’t think I would have ever flown during a Rafa match on clay again. Why, you ask? Rafa’s defeat to Federer in Hamburg, which snapped his 81-match winning streak on clay, occurred while I was in airspace over the Eastern seaboard. I landed in Miami for my layover and discovered that Rafa had lost. Fun times!
First word that comes to mind: Labored
The Good: I really want to pick the third round match against Paul-Henri Mathieu, as I still have vivid memories of the shotmaking in that match. But, the final against Federer was special. It was the first time Rafa beat Fed in a Grand Slam final. Furthermore, that match epitomized one of the main reasons I became a Nadal fan in the first place: his ability to be unfazed by adversity. He not only shook off that horror of a first set, but he also shook off the disappointment of being broken when he served for the match in the 4th set.
The Bad: The first set of the Final. Rafa’s feet looked like they were in concrete.
The Random: Oof, this is a hard one. There are so many to choose from: I mean Rafa choked on a banana in the third round, and then in the fourth round, a poor ball kid ended up with a bloody nose after being struck by a Hewitt serve. On top of that, Roland Garros presented Rafa with a trophy that looked like an “ant farm” after he broke Vilas’ winning streak on clay, and Djokovic had his “in control” press conference. I think I have to go with the banana incident, though.
First word that comes to mind: Grateful
The Good: The final, both the match and the emotions afterward. It felt like such sweet redemption for Rafa to be able to face down and defeat Soderling in the final. Rafa’s tears, and how much this win meant to him, still make me teary to this day.
The Bad: This tournament is one that I have a tough time coming up with a “bad.” I felt like many of Rafa’s main competitors never materialized, and that’s why I placed it at fifth, as opposed to higher.
The Random: Rafa played three left-handed players: Horacio Zeballos, Thomaz Belluci, and Jurgen Melzer.
First word that comes to mind: Satisfying
The Good: The final against Djokovic. It was so rewarding to see Rafa bounce back from that Australian Open heartbreak and defeat Djokovic in a Grand Slam final. Yes, Monte Carlo and Rome that year were significant, but this one was more so. I also really wanted Nadal to surpass Borg and win his seventh Roland Garros title. Both missions were accomplished.
The Bad: The rain!
The Random: I found it kind of random that 2012 marked only the second time Rafa and David Ferrer played each other at Roland Garros. It seems like those two constantly run into each other during the clay season, but it rarely happened in Paris. Their first meeting was in 2005!
Nadal vs Djokovic – Roland Garros 2012 Final… by f100003563603985
First word that comes to mind: Incredible
The Good: I will always consider Rafa’s win over Djokovic in the semifinals as one of his greatest triumphs. Other matches come to mind when I think of his best form, but few can match the intensity and mental willpower he displayed in the fifth set.
The Bad: The “slow” start; Rafa’s form in his first few matches had both him and us thinking he may be fishing in Mallorca sooner than we’d like.
The Random: I really did not want to bring up the protester who appeared on court, but it’s hard to top a shirtless, mask-wearing man who runs on court with a lit flare, no?
NADAL – DJOKOVIC (Roland-Garros Demi-Finale 2013) by macsenders
First word that comes to mind: Exuberance
The Good: So many moments come to mind for this one: the shotmaking in the semifinal against Federer, the cat-and-mouse exchanges at net with Puerta in the final, but what I will always remember most is how much joy and passion he displayed throughout the entire tournament.
The Bad: The crowd in the Round of 16 Grosjean match. Their behavior was absolutely disgraceful; they literally disrupted the proceedings for minutes.
The Random: This tournament marks Pau Gasol’s first of many appearances in Roland Garros (he’s only missed appearing when his Lakers were contending for NBA championships). But, what makes this year’s Gasol appearance random is that he wheeled a birthday cake into the pressroom on Nadal’s 19th birthday.
Highlight: The semifinal against Roger Federer (YouTube has disabled embedding for this video, which you can see here)
And here’s a funny interview with Nadal about the Grosjean incident:
First word that comes to mind: Majestic
The Good: The final against Federer, of course. I don’t think I’ve ever seen Rafa attain that level of play on clay before or since. It was truly a privilege to watch. His form in the whole tournament was awe-inspiring, breathtaking … really I can’t find the right words to do justice to how well he played. The form in the final, however, was legendary.
The Bad: NBC’s commentary during the final. It focused far too much, in my opinion, on what Federer wasn’t doing or should be doing.
The Random: Other than Novak Djokovic, no one won more games in a set against Rafa in the entire tournament than Thomaz Belluci. He won five games in the first set of their first round encounter.