Picture by 2020 Getty Images

13 and counting: Rafael Nadal’s dominance at the French Open by the numbers 

The Spaniard is the undeniable ‘King of Clay’ and so much more, and his other-worldly stats at Roland-Garros are a clear indication he’s the favourite there for an unprecedented 14th title.
By Nick McCarvel

Need reason to believe Rafael Nadal won’t lift his unprecedented 14th French Open trophy on June 13th? Sorry - this isn’t the article for you then.

The tennis legend, Beijing 2008 Olympic gold medallist and aptly nicknamed King of Clay kicks off his campaign for No.14 at the French Open just eight months after he captured his 13th title in October of 2020, after the tournament had been pushed back due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Nadal, who will turn 35 mid-tournament, has given no indication in the lead-up clay season that he won't be firing on all cylinders during his most successful event. He won titles at both Barcelona and Rome, the latter where he beat rival and world No.1 Novak Djokovic in the final.

Djokovic, Nadal and Roger Federer are all on the same side of the draw, however, meaning only one of them will make the final. Djokovic and Nadal are heavily favoured to clash in the semi-finals, as Federer has tempered expectations for his performance on the red dirt.

For the first time in his career, Nadal has the chance to pass Federer in the major titles count, both men tied at 20 - a record in the men's Open Era. Federer has held the record since surpassing Pete Sampras at Wimbledon in 2009.

Nadal's historic 13 titles is the most of any player at one of tennis’ four major tournaments. The Spaniard is an astounding 100-2 in 16 career appearances in Paris, dating back to his debut in 2005.

Here, we offer some of Nadal’s most eye-popping numbers at the French Open, which – unsurprisingly – have contributed in making him the odds-on favourite again in 2021.

Rafael Nadal at the French Open, 2005

Nadal’s sparkling Roland Garros career

Thirteen times Nadal has lifted the Coupe de Mousquetaires inside Court Philippe Chatrier, easily the most of any player at one Grand Slam in the Open Era, with Martina Navratilova winning nine Wimbledons, Djokovic's nine at the Australian Open, Federer's eight at Wimbledon and Serena Williams’ seven in both Australia and at Wimbledon.

Amassing those 13 trophies has taken 100 wins and just two losses: In the fourth round in 2009 to Swede Robin Soderling; and in the quarter-finals in 2015 to Djokovic. Nadal withdrew from the event prior to his third-round match in 2016 due to a left wrist injury.

Another injury forced Nadal to miss his French Open debut in 2004 at age 18. So a year later, when he played his first match at the event, he was one of the tournament favourites, having won events in Monte Carlo, Barcelona and Rome in the lead-up.

“Everyone was talking about him,” his first opponent, Lars Burgsmuller, told USA TODAY in 2015. “He was on the way up. Everyone knew that he would be very, very good.”

The next level: Inside Nadal’s 102 matches

While Nadal has lost just those two matches, there have been few times he’s been threatened over the best-of-five-set format. In fact, he owns a 298-27 record in sets played at the French Open.

In 2020, Nadal didn't drop a single set in seven matches played, including in the final against Djokovic.

Only twice Nadal has been stretched to five sets: A come-from-behind win against American John Isner in the first round in 2011 and a close-as-can-be semi-final against Djokovic in 2013, Nadal triumphing 6-4 3-6 6-1 6-7(3) 9-7.

Djokovic led that match by a break of serve late in the fifth set (4-3 serving), only to falter against his rival.

“Everybody knows Novak is a fighter,” Nadal said, according to The Guardian. “That’s why this is a special sport.”

That year, Nadal was coming back from a seven-month layoff due to a knee injury that knocked him out of the Olympic Games London 2012.

The argument could be made that Nadal’s 2008 French Open was his most dominant, as it marked the first time he won the event without dropping a set, and lost just 41 games in seven matches played.

He did not drop a set in 2010, either, as well as in 2017 and the aforementioned 2020. He would lose only 35 games in seven matches that year, though Pablo Carreño Busta retired from their quarter-final after just one set played. In the final, Nadal dismantled 2015 champ Stan Wawrinka 6-2 6-3 6-1.

His 2020 final score against Djokovic? 6-0, 6-2, 7-5.

A league of his own

Winning over 90 percent of his career matches on red clay (98.0 in Paris), Nadal hit the century mark – 100 wins at the French Open – when he hoisted last year's trophy.

Only Federer (Australian & Wimbledon), Serena (US Open), Navratilova (Wimbledon) and Chris Evert (US Open) have reached triple digits in the win column at a major in the Open Era.

While Navratilova's 120 Wimbledon wins is the most all-time, Nadal could pass Federer (102 at the Australian Open) for the most wins by a man at any major by reaching the fourth round. He could grab the No.2 all-time spot (Serena, 106 at the US Open) by winning the title.

They are numbers that are in another stratosphere - much the same as Nadal's level of tennis on the red clay.