He's experienced close calls throughout each of his 12 Roland Garros title runs. But every time, Rafael Nadal has ultimately shown a killer instinct. Today, we look back at his 2019 performance, one that saw the King Of Clay walk away with a 12th event trophy in the French capital.
2019 FRENCH OPEN
Before making his way to Paris, Nadal grabbed a crucial swing of momentum when he defeated Stefanos Tsitsipas and Novak Djokovic in succession to win Rome. That victory alleviated earlier clay-court losses to Fabio Fognini in Monte Carlo, Dominic Thiem in Barcelona and Tsitsipas in Madrid. In a favorable draw, Nadal dropped one set, to David Goffin, en route to the semifinals. From there, he outmatched Roger Federer and denied Thiem in a championship rematch to complete his set of dozen pieces of Roland Garros hardware. Nadal remarkably increased his combined final and semifinal mark at the event to 24-0, and, clinched a French Open three-peat for the third time.
Most impressive win: Semifinals; Nadal d. Federer, 6-3, 6-4, 6-2
Heading into the last-four showdown, Nadal owned a 13-2 advantage over Federer on clay, though had not met his longtime rival on the surface since 2013 Rome. Droplets of rain and wind gusts peaking near 40 m.p.h. presented complex conditions for both players to accept and work through. Federer, making his first Roland Garros appearance since 2015, was soon reminded of the challenge in beating Nadal over best of five on red dirt—a task he remained unable to complete after the left-hander won 47 percent of his return points.
Closest call: Final; Nadal d. Thiem, 6-3, 5-7, 6-1, 6-1
Stepping on court for the fourth successive day, Thiem clinched his first set in 11 against Nadal in Paris by flattening out his backhand and going after his serve. Restarting his engine when the match turned into a virtual best-of-three contest, Nadal won the first 11 points to open the third set. As he accelerated, the Austrian proved incapable of sustaining his aggressive game plan, finishing second once again.