When watching Rafael Nadal stroll towards an unprecedented 10th French Open title yesterday afternoon, it was hard to believe how a man so dominant could be on the brink of his first Grand Slam title for three whole years.
Just nine months ago, the record-breaking Spaniard lost in the fourth round of the US Open to Frenchman Lucas Pouille.
It was significant because, for the first time since 2003, Nadal had failed to reach the quarter-final stage at a major in a calendar year.
That defeat must feel like a distant memory now, following a crushing 6-2 6-3 6-1 victory over Switzerland’s Stan Wawrinka to re-claim the Coupe des Mousquetaires trophy in Paris.
It’s the third time in Nadal’s illustrious career that he has won the clay-court title without losing a set. He dropped just 35 games in total, eclipsing his previous best tally of 42 in 2008.
A 15th major moves Nadal ahead of Pete Sampras in the all-time records list, and to within three of his great rival Roger Federer.
It was Federer’s compatriot, Wawrinka, who stood in Nadal’s way, as the Spaniard strove to become the first singles player, male or female, to win the same Grand Slam on 10 separate occasions.
Nadal dominates after saving an early break point
Yet, from the start, there was an inevitability about the contest, right from the minute that Nadal saved a break point in the third game of the match.
Wawrinka, the 2015 champion at Roland Garros, had been in scintillating form when dispatching world number one Andy Murray in Friday’s epic semi-final.
However, against Nadal, even the burly Swiss couldn’t find a way past the Spaniard’s impeccable defence.
Wawrinka’s monstrous groundstrokes allowed him to blast Novak Djokovic off the court in the final here two years ago, however Nadal’s heavy top spin, generated from his ominous forehand wing, consistency kept his opponent at bay.
The Spaniard’s backhand was almost as lethal, regularly keeping Wawrinka off-guard from the back of the court.
It may not be his most coveted shot but Nadal is visibly hitting his backhand harder and flatter compared to a couple of months ago, which also bodes well for the slick grass courts at Wimbledon.
Improved serve pays dividends
Nadal’s serve has also taken an upgrade, which he credits compatriot Carlos Moyá - who joined the Spaniard’s coaching team at the start of the year - for.
Against Wawrinka, Nadal faced just one break point in the entire match and once he’d saved it, there was little the Swiss could do.
Nadal broke his opponent for the first time in the sixth game to lead 4-2, forcing an error from the usually-potent Wawrinka backhand.
Wawrinka has no answers
The Swiss was unable to impose himself when pinned back behind the baseline and an early break at the start of the second put Nadal in full control.
Wawrinka’s game, understandably, began to leak errors, as the third set quickly became one-way traffic.
Nadal sealed the match and the title in two hours and 15 minutes, rewriting the record books once again.