PARIS: Rafael Nadal can become the first man to win the same Grand Slam title eight times at the French Open with few willing to risk talking down the rejuvenated Spaniard’s chances.
Having pulled clear of Bjorn Borg’s record of six wins at Roland Garros with a seventh championship in 2012, the 26-year-old has already confounded the critics who had written him off during a seventh-month injury absence.
Since his return to the tour in February, Nadal has shaken off the heartbreak of missing the Olympics, as well as the US and Australian Opens, to collect six titles from eight finals.
Super-charged by that astonishing run, Nadal now has the opportunity to genuinely confirm himself as one of the greats of the sport.
No man has ever collected more than seven titles at the same major.
Roy Emerson, with six, is the Australian Open’s most successful while William Renshaw, Pete Sampras and Roger Federer all triumphed at Wimbledon seven times each.
Bill Larned, Bill Tilden and Richard Sears were seven-time winners at the US Open.
Since his French Open debut in 2005, Nadal has only lost once— an injury-hit fourth round exit to free-hitting Robin Soderling in 2009.
His record stands at 52 wins against just that single blip against the Swede.
In 2013, Nadal may have lost his Monte Carlo Masters title to world number one Novak Djokovic after an eight-year monopoly, but he swept to victory on clay in Madrid and Rome where he allowed Federer just four games in the final.
He is on a 15-match winning streak and being seeded three at Roland Garros this year after the withdrawal of Andy Murray makes Friday’s draw compulsive viewing.
Djokovic, beaten in last year’s final, or Federer, who has lost four title matches to Nadal at the tournament, will find they have the Spaniard as a potential semi-final opponent.
Nadal insists his 2013 run has taken even him by surprise after his second round exit at Wimbledon last year at the hands of world number 100 Lukas Rosol sent him home to Manacor to rest-up his suspect knees.
“If you told me four or five months ago that after eight tournaments I would have won six titles from eight finals, I would say you are crazy,” said Nadal, who spends less time on the practice courts to protect his aching joints.
Djokovic, who captured the season’s opening major in Australia, needs a French Open to join Nadal and Federer as active players to have completed a career Grand Slam.