You know that Rafael Nadal has won his 22nd major championship and his 14th Roland Garros tournament. Sunday’s win over Casper Ruud was a formality. As soon as he beat Novak Djokovic, Nadal was the almost-certain winner of this tournament. When Alexander Zverev suffered his terrible injury on Friday, that was pretty much the last spark of drama and uncertainty at this men’s tournament in terms of the ultimate winner.
As we celebrate Nadal’s latest historic achievement and the elevation of a sky-high legacy to an even more exalted place in the tennis stratosphere, there’s a number other than 22 and 14 which needs to be noted: 16.
Try to guess what that number refers to.
Take a minute. Think. Pause. Grab a cold beverage. Go over the numbers and the milestones. See what you come up with.
Take a little more time. No rush.
Okay. I’m about to reveal the answer.
Nadal has won his 16th title as a seed other than No. 1 at a major.
Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic both won most of their majors as No. 1 seeds and World No. 1 players. Nadal, who has 11 major titles specifically as a No. 2 seed, is the greatest No. 2 seed in the history of tennis at the biggest tournaments. He is, more broadly, the greatest tennis champion of all time when playing below the World No. 1 ranking.
It is one of the many spectacular and defining features of the Big 3 era: Nadal has 22 majors, and yet he is third, behind Djokovic and Federer, in weeks spent at World No. 1. His two great and iconic rivals have spent most of this era ahead of Nadal in the rankings, yet Rafa just might finish ahead of them in major titles, though Djokovic could certainly mount a rally in the coming years.
It’s remarkable, no?
Nadal has been No. 2 at so many majors yet beaten his foremost rivals. He has not been No. 1 within the confines of the calendar or the computer as often as his celebrated peers from Switzerland and Serbia. Yet, here he is with 22 majors and the other two at 20.
It’s the product of 16 majors without being a No. 1 seed. It reflects, among many other things, Nadal’s ability to transcend circumstances and limits, just as he did at this tournament in the face of his chronic foot pain, which he managed brilliantly, especially in his win over Djokovic, which turned out to be “the final before the final.”
Nadal is celebrating 22 and 14. Be sure to include 16 in this festival of the life and its great champion, no?