PARIS—Watching the presentation ceremony after Rafael Nadal had cut down Dominic Thiem, 6-4, 6-3, 6-2, to claim his eleventh French Open crown and 17th Grand Slam title, it was fitting that the man presenting the trophy to the champion was none other than Ken Rosewall. The 83-year-old Australian is cut from the same cloth as the 32-year-old Spaniard in terms of character.
Rosewall captured the first Grand Slam tournament of the Open era in Paris fifty years ago, and now he was greeting a fellow he clearly admires not only as a tennis champion but as a man who represents the sport just about as well at it can be done. Rosewall was an understated individual who let his triumphs speak for him, and so it is with the humble left-hander.
Nadal takes none of his victories for granted, thoroughly appreciates every opportunity he gets to succeed on one of the premier athletic stages, and wins with almost unimaginable class and grace. Nadal has long understood that the ultimate test of a champion is to step out into the arena and play not only hard but fair, to compete with equanimity, win or lose, and to respect each and every opponent for who they are and what they have done. He never puts himself on a pedestal and always treats his opponents with respect.
In this final with Thiem, Nadal could not have started with greater intensity or deeper concentration. He surely wanted to avoid struggling as he had in almost every first set he contested all tournament long. He realized that Thiem, who has beaten him on clay three times, was as worthy a rival as he could have confronted in the title round this year. He took the assignment with a seriousness he reserves for only the biggest moments on the most prestigious occasions.