Mailbag: Is Nadal's 12 French Opens the Most Unbreakable Record in Tennis History?

Rafa Nadal's 12th Roland Garros title has us thinking...what's the most unbreakable record in tennis history?
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Hey everyone…

• Jamie Lisanti and I put a bow on clay-coated bow on Roland Garros 2019 with a podcast.

Here’s our post-Rafa12 mailbag…


Say what you will about Federer and Djokovic’s incredible records (and they are incredible), but 12?!? TWELVE French Opens? I’d put it at the top of not only tennis’s unbreakable records, but in the top tier of sports’ unbreakable records. The only possibility it has of being broken is if Nadal himself makes it it 13,14,..etc. I also really feel for Dominic Thiem. It makes me think of all the generations of players Nadal has prevented from winning the French. First, Federer, as he’s a bit older. Then, his own generation of Djokovic/Ferrer/Wawrinka. Now, it’s Thiem’s gen. Next year, it might be Tsitsipas’s.

• I tried to take stock of tennis’s unbreakable Open Era records and here’s what I came up with in order:

1. A match ending 70-68 in the fifth set, and all the other records—points played, aces, games in a set, the 980 points played—that go with it.

2. Nadal’s 12 French Opens. For that matter, any player winning any major a dozen times.

3. Three players competing simultaneously with more than 50 singles Grand Slam titles among them.

4. Martina’s 59 overall Grand Slam titles. (Yes, Margaret Court won 62.)

5. The Bryan Brothers winning more than 100 titles (over nearly a quarter-century) with the same partner.

6. Two sisters  winning almost 30 Grand Slam singles titles between them, and teaming to win more than a dozen Grand Slam titles together in doubles, and generally ruling a sport for a quarter-century. 

7. Tracy Austin winning a Grand Slam singles title at 16 (and a WTA title the same month she turned 14.)

Pretty amazing how when the right players win, it salvages a tournament.

This French Open was a disaster for organizers—rain, questionable scheduling for both men and women, questionable press conference room assignments.

Yet, when it's all said and done, the good guys won! Just about everyone inside and outside of the tennis world congratulated Ash Barty (our local hero) and everyone tends to love Thiem. Plus we had Wawrinka, Vondrousova, Khachanov and others who seem to be very well-liked, too.

It's great to see that these individual story lines can overshadow the average management of the tournament, which stole some headlines during the two weeks. Now—imagine if these players put their heads together and unionized, given their star power. Food for thought!
Damian, Richmond, Australia

• This is the life cycle of a tennis tournament. At the time, we all have a laugh or a shout or an outraged hot take about these microevents. Damir Dokic throws a piece a fish! Nick Kyrgios did [insert virtually anything here]. A wild card showed up drunk and shoeless! Someone got consigned to a court unworthy of their status! There is a double standard!

Then, after the dust settles, all we ultimately remember are the winners. Ash Barty, as likable as she is versatile, wins the women’s title. Rafa takes another. These are the enduring memories of the two-week competition. And everything— from crap scheduling to dubious rain delays to the cancellation of Gemlife —becomes marginalia. Happens every time.

While extending full props to Ash B. for her astounding ascent through tennis...

Is it beating a dead horse to ask whether 12 titles at one slam while accumulating 18 overall is on par with 20 spread slightly more evenly?  Yes we can all agree that this entire generation is just incredible, and aren’t we lucky?  But GOAT isn’t a three-way title…
Jon B., Seattle

• We were talking about this on Tennis Channel the other day. I always thought one of the more underrated records in tennis: Steffi Graf winning EACH major at least four times. But absolutely owning a Slam like that? When your contemporaries include Federer, Djokovic, Wawrinka, and Thiem? When you started as a teenager and are still going strong as a 33-year-old? Ridiculous. Also, Nadal is one Australian Open—or, as he might frame it, one hold against Federer in 2017 or one back injury against Wawrinka in 2014—from a “double career major,” something no other contemporary has pulled off. So it’s not as though he’s slacking on other surfaces.

I don't think God, on His best day, could have beaten Nadal Sunday at Roland Garros. (Of course He couldn't because, as I recall, on the seventh day He rested.) Anyway, please change my GOAT vote (for now) to the Rafa.
Richard Des Ruisseaux, Louisville

• You guys know where I stand on the GOAT talk: it’s a fun discussion and we can always monitor the stock ticker. But let’s resist any declarative statements until all three careers are over. Winning an event 12 times doesn’t, de facto, make you the GOAT. It is, however, unquestionably a point in the plus category.

I remember a few instances where a player won a Grand Slam without facing a top-10 opponent, but I don't recall any majors where both players reached the final without playing a top-10 opponent, as Barty and Vondrousova did. Do you know if this has happened before?
Teddy C., New York City

• Good one. How about this: Rafa won the 2017 U.S. Open without beating a top=25 player. And he met Kevin Anderson in the final, whose highest ranked opponent was No. 19 Pablo Carreno Busta.

I recall Marion Bartoli winning Wimbledon in 2013 and not beating a top-10 player along the way. But her opponent, Sabine Lisicki —currently ranked outside the top 250, by the way—beat both Serena (No.1) and Radwanska (No.4).

We were joking on the air that before the tournament one of us (believe it was Lindsay Davenport) said that any of 25 women could win the title. By the semifinals, three of the four remainders were outside the top 25.

At the risk of beating a dead horse, comparing the women’s final to Djokovic and Theim’s semi, how in the world could women think they deserve equal prize money at the Slams?

I am a woman. I play tennis. I just don’t think women should get equal prize money at Slams.

• Here’s what happened the final weekend of the major prior to Paris:

Naomi Osaka d. Petra Kvitova: 7-6, 5-7, 6-4.

Novak Djokovic d. Rafael Nadal 6-3, 6-2, 6-3.

How in the world could men think they deserve equal prize money?

Here’s the deal with prize money. Independently, men’s tennis has greater value than women’s tennis. But together, combined events have the greatest value. They also have a built-in hedge. Sometimes the men deliver the best entertainment. Sometimes the women do. Do you want to grow a bigger pie? Or bicker about how to divide the existing one?

I was so pleased to read of the ITF’s announcement appointing Billie Jean King as the first-ever Global Ambassador for the Fed Cup competition.  Application of the ITF’s gender equality initiative, Advantage All—which aims to drive gender equality in tennis—to the Fed Cup, in concert with the leadership of Ms. King, is bound to bring swift changes to the Fed Cup so that it gains equal financial footing with the ITF’s Davis Cup.  Even better, joining Ms. King in this effort will be the Chair of the ITF’s Gender Equality in Tennis Committee, Katrina Adams.  In commenting on her Ambassadorship appointment, Ms. King remarked that she is proud to “work together with the ITF to champion equality in tennis.”  As an initial Fed Cup-related gender equity initiative for Mses. King and Adams, it would seem obvious that they would declare the need for immediate gender equity in prize money levels between the Fed Cup and Davis Cup competitions. In that regard, for the 2019 World Group and World Group II (totaling 16 nations), the Fed Cup is offering $7.5 million.  By comparison, for the 2019 Davis Cup World Group Finals (totaling 18 nations), the prize money on offer is $20 million.  For simplicity, that amounts to a per-nation (team) average of $1.1 million for the 2019 Davis Cup World Group Finals, as compared to $469,000 per nation (team) for the 2019 Fed Cup World Group/World Group II.  On the heels of announcing Ms. King as the first-ever Global Ambassador for Fed Cup, should we not expect to hear from Ms. King (and/or Chair Adams) a declaration “championing equality” between the Davis Cup and Fed Cup so that this nearly (and almost unfathomable) 60% gap in pay, on a per-nation basis, be equalized for the 2020 Davis Cup and Fed Cup competitions?    
Jon.Bryan K., Brooklyn

• I would invite BJK and/or Katrina to weigh in here. And while the ITF has hardly cornered the market on hypocrisy, it does seems rather suspect to create this self-congratulatory position while paying 40 cents on the dollar.

But my response would be that perhaps men and women are being paid commensurate to gross revenue. Again, I don’t think many would argue that, as standalone sports, men’s tennis would have a higher valuation—and therefore higher wages—than women’s tennis. My issue is that at joint events—when the sport is at its strongest and has the most bargaining power in the marketplace—it is a different proposition. 

Having lost four games in a row after running out to a 5-0 lead in the French Open semi-final, Ash Barty saves the umpire a trip to the far end of the court by signaling a ball called out was good, conceding the point. Contrast this class with Angelique Kerber and Dominica Cibulkova trying to take advantage of umpire mistakes to gain totally undeserved points at majors. (Why is there not a fine and or suspension for the player in these cases?) We are seeing the outcome of Kerber and Cibulkova's behavior in the ruin of NCAA tennis. Again, for the 99.9% of players who play recreationally but not competitively with umpires, there can be no game with dishonest opponents. 

Barty showed herself to be a true champion and a class act. Advance Australia and Ash, you Bobby Dazzler, you. 
Muhammad Cohen, Hong Kong

• Yep. It was impossible not to notice the absolute outpouring of support Barty received from her colleagues, male and female.  It was also not hard to notice why.

You are far too experienced as a tennis writer to reply with “Facts are facts” to the Federer Masters 1000 mailbag question. Thomas Muster is seventh all-time on the Master 100 list. Where does he rank all time?  Not even in the top 25.  Please tell the whole story to the audience.  BTW, I am not replying as a FedFan.   

I also think it’s interesting you take a shot a Margaret Court but nothing about Serena’s behavior with regard to Thiem. You need Serena for the ESPN U.S. Open coverage.  It’s interesting who you use your column to take shots at…  

• “Facts are facts” was in response to the, well, fact, that there are no Masters 1000s held on grass, depressing Federer’s total. This is largely on account of venue. There simply aren’t grass facilities that accommodate a 64-draw one-week event with broadcast positions, stadiums, etc. 

But my point: the calendar is the calendar and the rules are the rules and we often don’t get too far arguing counterfactuals. If there were bans on two-handed backhands or 10 seconds between points or additional Masters events held indoors, Federer would win more. If there were bans on one-handed backhands, he’d win less. As they say (vulgarly): if the queen had testicles, she’d be the king. 

As for the other point, by definition, a column is used for subjective judgments and opinions. You are correct: I do not equate Margaret Court’s unapologetic anti-gay bias—dangerous and deeply hurtful to an entire class of people—with a press conference room mix-up. I am more likely to equate her with a flagrant racist. She’s going to end up on the wrong side of history. And so will those who think she is entitled to her opinion without repercussion.

Thanks for directing me to the article on Marco Trungelliti. After all he has/is going through, it makes him very easy to cheer for. Now my new favorite player. And why do I feel if this has a happy (or sad) ending, it has the makings of a book or movie?
Steve O’Hara, Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, Canada

• This is what I love about tennis. A fan in Yellowknife (which is awesome by the way) writing to a journalist in New York about his sympathies for an Argentine player. But, yes, we should all make a point of cheering a little harder for Marco Trungelliti. 

Some stats on almost perfect tennis match!

Steffi Graf is way underrated in this era of self/media/brand/book (autobiographies)/social network promotions. She let her game speak for itself, and the game stands by itself even today...unique and tall compared to most.

• Well played. And as good a time as any to wish Steffi Graf a happy 50th birthday this week.

So if Nadal loses in the first round of the next 91 French Opens, he’ll have a .500 winning percentage...
Andrew Krouse, Reading, Penn.

• Well played. 

Jon, He’s not a cyborg; Rafa now is 2Borg! (12 French Opens vs six).
K. Cullen

• Well played.

That was an amazing "Long Lost Siblings"...except the movie was Aliens, NOT "Aliens 2." There is no such movie as "Aliens 2." C'mon, when you are talking about the greatest movie of all time, there is no excuse for that mistake.

• No excuses. 

How about a shout out to Nicole Gibbs?  Seemingly beating cancer, all while keeping it entertainingly documented on social media, in the face of missing ranking points and price money thru the summer stretch.  I hope she gets a wild card to the U.S. Open at the very least.  (When you make an Instagram account for an NG tube, you've got to win some props).

• A shout-out, props, name-check, H/T, and, above all, best wishes.


• Say what you will about Nike, this is tremendous:

 • As I may have mentioned to you earlier, Hall of Famer, U.S. Open, Wimbledon and Davis Cup Champion Vic Seixas is in failing health. He now requires significant help at home and he can now only get around in his wheelchair. His medical costs have become quite high and he will need continued help and medical attention. 

Here’s a GoFundMe page that has been set up to support Vic.

• And here it is, your moment of Zen.