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In 2005 when Rafael Nadal defeated Lars Burgsmuller 6-1 7-6 6-1 in the opening round of the French Open, not one person would have predicted what the then 18-year-old would go on to achieve at the tournament.


14 titles, 112 wins and just three losses, it is a record replicates that of a videogame.


The legacy that Nadal will leave at Roland Garros will stand the test of time and when he strides out for what could be his final ever contest at the event against Alexander Zverev, the tennis world will collectively reflect on the past 18 years that have seen the Spaniard flaw his opponents with some of the most brutal tennis ever witnessed.


The French Open has long been the tournament that he has owned, so much so that most wrote off his major rivals in Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic before a ball was even hit.


He has enjoyed his success against them too with a combined 14 victories against his fellow Big Three members on the red dirt of the French capital.


It was the event Federer could never conquer in his prime because Nadal foiled his every move, and it was the one that eluded Djokovic for what seemed like eternity when he became a bona fide Grand Slam winner.


The Serbian has since won three titles on the Avenue de la Porte D’auteuil and has managed to defeat Nadal twice in Paris, which will be one of the most revered statistics when it comes to the tournament.


It took four years for Nadal to finally show vulnerability, falling unexpectedly to Robin Soderling in the fourth round of the 2009 edition of the event, causing people to wonder if maybe he had been figured out.


From there he went on to storm to the next five crowns, dispatching everyone in his path even when his body was far from full health.


Nadal’s most dominant victories at the tournament were separated by a staggering twelve years, the first being his 6-1 6-3 6-0 demolition of Federer in 2008. One of the few times that the Swiss Maestro was ever made to look absolutely powerless on a tennis court.


Fast forward to the COVID-19 French Open staged in October of 2020, where Nadal was forced to play on an indoor Chatrier against a red hot Djokovic.


However, unperturbed, the Spaniard dismantled his rival 6-0 6-2 7-5 in what was one of his more perfect displays.


His matchup against Zverev in the opening round of the 2024 tournament brings people back just two years, when Nadal was being pushed to the brink in what could have gone down as the greatest match in tournament history.


Somehow securing the first set after being four set points down, the Spaniard managed to force a second set tiebreak as the match entered its fourth hour.


Zverev would then roll his ankle in horrid fashion, bursting into tears and concluding the match early to send Nadal through to the decider where he would easily account for Casper Ruud for a then record 22nd major title.


It is with great hope that this 2024 matchup is a classic, but should the man affectionately known as Rafa be eliminated for the last time, we must all reflect on the joy that he has brought us at Roland Garros rather than be sad it is over.


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