Rafael Nadal happily took his place alongside Roger Federer at the summit of men’s tennis after demolishing Novak Djokovic to win a 13th French Open title.
The Spaniard’s brilliant 6-0 6-2 7-5 victory on Court Philippe Chatrier brought him a 20th slam title, drawing him level for the first time with his old rival.
Nadal has been dominant for so long on the Parisian clay that it seemed nothing he did could surprise, but to produce such a performance against a man who had not lost a completed match all season was breath-taking.
Nadal hit 31 winners and made only 14 unforced errors, leaving Djokovic, who had been hoping to become the first man in the Open era to lift every slam trophy at least twice, unable to find any answers.
The third set was at least competitive, and ensured Djokovic avoided his worst ever slam defeat, but this was unquestionably Nadal’s day.
Federer was quick to pay tribute to the 34-year-old, saying on Twitter: “I have always had the utmost respect for my friend Rafa as a person and as a champion. As my greatest rival over many years, I believe we have pushed each other to become better players.
“Therefore, it is a true honour for me to congratulate him on his 20th grand slam victory. It is especially amazing that he has now won Roland Garros an incredible 13 times, which is one of the greatest achievements in sport.
“I also congratulate his team because nobody can do this alone. I hope 20 is just another step on the continuing journey for both of us. Well done Rafa. You deserve it.”
Nadal has always played down the importance of chasing Federer’s mark but, at five years younger than the Swiss and now three titles clear of Djokovic again, he must be in pole position to claim the overall record.
“I always say the same, that I would love to finish my career being the player with more grand slams,” said Nadal.
“But on the other hand I say, ‘OK, I have to do my way’. I did my way during all my career. Worked well. I’m not going to be thinking all the time Novak has this one, Roger is winning the other one. You can’t be always unhappy because your neighbour has a bigger house than you or a bigger boat or has a better phone.
“Of course I care. I am a big fan of the history of sport in general. For me it means a lot to share this number with Roger. But let’s see what’s going on when we finish our careers.
“I don’t know what can happen in the future. I am just excited. At the same time to share this record between us, that we had an amazing rivalry for such a long time, is something in some way beautiful I really believe.”
Having started the tournament by saying the cool and damp autumnal conditions, coupled with heavier balls, would make this the most difficult French Open to win for him, Nadal ended it without losing a set and with his record at the tournament standing at a ridiculous 100 wins and two losses.
The conditions had been expected to favour Djokovic, particularly with the roof shut, and all the indications were this would be one of their lung-busting, play-to-a-standstill epics.
But, rather like last year’s Australian Open final, when Djokovic crushed Nadal, this was a virtuoso performance by a man on the stage he has made his own.
For two sets he was virtually flawless. Djokovic served poorly in the first set and had an over-reliance on the drop shot, but he did not play badly despite staring at the worst slam defeat of his career.
Nadal could not quite sustain that perfection in the third set, but Djokovic was not at the level he needed to be to have a chance of turning things around and he had to digest a painful defeat.
The Spaniard said: “Of course I played at an amazing level of tennis. It’s impossible to have this score against him without playing great. I played at my highest level when I needed to, so (that’s) something I am very proud (of).
“The personal satisfaction is big because, under the circumstances that we played this Roland Garros, even if I played an amazing match this afternoon, the conditions are a little bit not the conditions that I will choose to play an event like this.
“I was able to adapt well. I was able to be positive in every circumstance that I was facing. I just tried to work every day with the right determination, looking for my goals. I think it’s one of the Roland Garros’ that have a better personal value for myself.”
Djokovic was hugely gracious in the face of what was clearly a painful defeat, saying: “I don’t have much to say but that I was completely overplayed by Rafa.
“I felt well throughout the entire tournament. I thought I was in great form. Certainly I could have played better, especially in the first two sets. But he did surprise me with the way he was playing, the quality of tennis he was producing.
“He’s phenomenal. He played a perfect match, especially in the first two sets. The third set I managed to come back. I kind of found my groove on the court, had my chances, didn’t use them.
“All the superlatives you can use, he deserves them. It’s just one of these days where you have to say, ‘Chapeau, and well done’.”