Winning a Major title is always a remarkable feat, reserved for the Open era's best players. To beat seven rivals in two weeks requires a special performance and composed tennis on both serve and return in marathon best-of-five encounters, especially in the later rounds.
The feat becomes even more exclusive when we talk about the players who have won a Major title without losing a set, with only five players achieving that in the Open era since 1968. Ken Rosewall did that at the Australian Open in 1971, followed by Ilie Nastase at Roland Garros two years later.
Between 1976-1980, the great Bjorn Borg achieved the feat thrice at Roland Garros and Wimbledon, remaining the record-holder for four decades. Bjorn was the last Major champion without losing a set until 2007 when Roger Federer joined him at the Australian Open, repeating the task at Wimbledon ten years later at almost 36!
Dominating at a single Major like no one before him, Rafael Nadal has overpowered the mentioned rivals and became the first player with four Major titles without dropping a set, achieving that in his beloved Paris on Court Philippe-Chatrier.
Nadal won the title in Paris in dominant style in 2008 and 2010, standing strong again in 2017 to match Bjorn Borg and passive the great Swede a few weeks ago. On October 11, Nadal conquered the 13th Roland Garros crown from 16 trips to Paris, ousting all seven rivals in straight sets to earn a remarkable record and join Roger Federer on 20 Major trophies!
At 34, Nadal endured all the Paris efforts, beating the opponents and challenging conditions to confirm his greatness on the slowest surface and write the record books 15 years after his first Parisian triumph. The Spaniard suffered eight breaks in seven matches, delivering incredible tennis on both serve and return to leave all the opponents behind and defend the crown.
In the opening four rounds, Rafa toppled Egor Gerasimov, Mackenzie McDonald, Stefano Travaglia and Sebastian Korda without breaking a sweat, suffering one break and dropping 23 games (ten against Gerasimov in the first clash) in 12 sets to sail into the quarters.
Nadal had to work hard against the young Italian Jannik Sinner, getting broken twice and trailing 6-5 in the opener to jeopardize the record. Nonetheless, Rafa broke back in the last moment and won the tie break to close the opening set, prevailing in the second and standing strong in the third to advance into the semis.
Diego Schwartzman defeated Rafa in Rome but stood no chance in Paris, with the Spaniard taking the opening two sets 6-3 before wasting the lead in the third for more drama. Schwartzman gained momentum in the second part of the set to reach a tie break that Nadal won 7-0 to seal the deal in style and move into the 13th Roland Garros final without losing a set.
The toughest obstacle stood between Rafael Nadal and the title, with world no. 1 Novak Djokovic standing on the other side of the net, seeking the second trophy in Paris. Like those before him, Novak had nothing to offer against mighty Rafa, who produced a 6-0, 6-2, 7-5 triumph in two hours and 41 minutes, winning the fourth Major crown without losing a set!
Nadal had 31 winners and 14 unforced errors, performing strongly from both wings and taking 51% of the return points to control the scoreboard. Novak sprayed 52 unforced errors, searching for his A-game for more than two hours and suffering a massive loss despite a solid effort in set number three.
Rafa lost serve once, which was never enough for Novak to keep comfortable, leaving his mighty return in the locker room and having no idea how to deal with the opponent who demolished him in the shortest rallies up to four strokes.
Just like in 2008 against Roger Federer, Nadal delivered a bagel in the opening set, playing almost flawless tennis and providing three breaks against the world's leading player, finishing it with an ace at 5-0 after 45 minutes.
Rafa faced no break points in set number two, taming his strokes nicely and outplaying Djokovic on the return for another rock-solid set of tennis and a 6-0, 6-2 advantage after an hour and 34 minutes. Eager to avoid disaster, Djokovic saved a break point in the third game of the third set and raised his level.
Rafa broke him at love in game five and gave the serve away for the first and only time a few minutes later, providing Djokovic with a necessary boost that made him a contender again. With no room for errors in his games, Nadal held comfortably in games eight, ten and 12, earning a break at 5-5 after a double fault from Novak and sealing the deal with a hold at love for a massive celebration of the 20th Major title.