PARIS (Reuters) - Rafael Nadal’s stranglehold on the French Open has endured so long and remains so strong that he has even out-lasted his favorite Court Philippe Chatrier stadium and will probably still be winning the title when it gets a roof in 2020.
The dust will hardly have settled on Nadal’s record-extending 11th Roland Garros title achieved with a 6-4 6-3 6-2 defeat of Austrian Dominic Thiem before the demolition teams move in to start ripping out chunks of the old concrete.
Roland Garros is undergoing a major modernization project, as have Wimbledon and Flushing Meadows, the venue of the U.S. Open.
But while the infrastructure of the world’s four Grand Slams gets constantly upgraded, the furniture at the top of men’s tennis remains bolted down.
Written off as fading forces two years ago, Nadal, 32, and Roger Federer, approaching 37, have won the last six Grand Slam titles between them. So much for the aging process and the new generation expected to shove them to one side.
Federer returned from a five-year Grand Slam drought to beat Nadal in last year’s Australian Open final, then won an eighth Wimbledon and retained the Australian title in January, beating Marin Cilic in the final on both occasions.
Spaniard Nadal reclaimed his French Open title 12 months ago without dropping a set and triumphed at the U.S. Open.
For the second year running Federer opted against playing at the French Open to spare his knees, but will be favorite to win Wimbledon next month and re-establish a four Grand Slam gap over Nadal on the list of all-time collectors of major titles.
Not that 17-times Grand Slam champion Nadal, whose latest feat is all the more remarkable considering he was sidelined for several weeks this year due to injury, is pre-occupied with trying to keep up with his Swiss rival.
“Let me enjoy this title. I can’t be always thinking of more. Of course, I have ambition, I have passion for what I am doing, but I never have been crazy about all this kind of stuff,” Nadal told a news conference.
“You can’t be frustrated always if somebody have more money than you, if somebody have a bigger house than you, if somebody have more Grand Slams than you. You can’t live with that feeling. You have to do your way.”
Nadal has now won three Grand Slam titles since turning 30 and only three men, Federer, Rod Laver and Ken Rosewall, who handed over the Coupe des Mousquetaires trophy on Sunday, have managed more, having done it four times.
“You can’t fight against age and you can’t fight against the watch. The watch keeps going always,” Nadal said.
“If you told seven or eight years ago that I will be here at 32 years old having this trophy with me again, I will tell you that is something almost impossible, but here we are.”
After an intense claycourt season in which he also collected an 11th Monte Carlo and Barcelona crown and suffered only one defeat in 27 matches, Nadal will take time out for fishing in his native Mallorca before the grasscourt swing.
But anyone thinking he might relax having again won the tournament he says he has a “love affair” with will be wrong.
“There is no limit. You never know where is the limit,” he said. “If you don’t have the will to improve, you don’t understand sport. It’s playing with the dream of doing something better than what you’re doing before.”
Reporting by Martyn Herman, editing by Ed Osmond