Rafael Nadal produced one of his finest French Open displays to stun Novak Djokovic and equal Roger Federer’s record of 20 Grand Slam men’s titles.
Spanish second seed Nadal outclassed world number one Djokovic in a 6-0 6-2 7-5 win, which clinched a record-extending 13th title at Roland Garros.
Questions had been asked about 34-year-old Nadal’s level, but he responded with an almost flawless performance.
Top seed Djokovic, 33, lost a completed match for the first time in 2020.
The Serb was overwhelmed by Nadal’s rapid start and produced a despondent display as a result.
Defeat also meant Djokovic, who was bidding for an 18th Grand Slam title, lost ground on Nadal and Federer in their ongoing battle to finish with the most major wins.
Nadal sealed victory after two hours 41 minutes with a kicking ace out wide on his first match point, leaving the Spaniard laughing as he fell to his knees on the court where he has enjoyed unparalleled success.
“A win here means everything for me,” said Nadal, who also became the first player to win 100 singles matches at Roland Garros.
“Honestly, I don’t think about the 20th and equalling Roger, for me it is just a Roland Garros victory.
“I have spent most of the most important moments in my career here.
“Just to play here is a true inspiration and the love story I have with this city and this court is unforgettable.”
Nadal shows exactly why he is the ‘King of Clay’
Few things in the sporting world over the past 15 years have been almost as certain as Nadal winning the French Open men’s singles title.
This year, like with so many things across the world because of the coronavirus pandemic, there was more uncertainty.
Nadal himself put some doubt on his chances going into a tournament which looked and felt like no other French Open.
Played in cooler weather than usual – with the tournament in October rather than June – and without his usual preparation on the clay courts, Nadal said it represented the toughest test he had ever faced at Roland Garros.
But he came through these new challenges to win in arguably the finest fashion yet.
Not only did Nadal win the tournament without dropping a set for a fourth time, it was the manner of his one-sided victory against Djokovic which made it so impressive.
Nadal raised his game to a scarcely believable level from the start, defending ferociously and attacking with equally great effect.
Everything he hit at Djokovic landed with pace and precision, leading to just six unforced errors in the opening two sets.
Djokovic looked up to the sky in amazement when Nadal eventually started making a few more mistakes in a more competitive third set – but by then it was too late for even him to turn the match around.
“Today you showed why you are King of the Clay, I experienced it with my own skin,” Djokovic said.
Nadal’s dominance at Roland Garros by numbers
13 – no other player has won as many Grand Slam singles titles at one place
15 – the number of years since his first Grand Slam title, only Serena Williams’ wins have spanned a longer period
100 – Nadal is the first player to reach a century of singles wins at Roland Garros
Subdued Djokovic not allowed to play his best
While Nadal had the superior history at Roland Garros, Djokovic had the superior form over the course of a fragmented year.
Djokovic had won 37 of his 38 previous matches this year, with his only defeat coming as a result of being defaulted in the infamous US Open fourth-round match against Pablo Carreno Busta last month.
Unlike Nadal, Djokovic had dropped sets in his previous six matches – albeit only three – but looked to be operating at a higher level as he swatted aside tougher opponents than Nadal.
Therefore, many would have considered Djokovic as the slight favourite going into the final.
Djokovic had played with clarity of thought and perfect execution through much of the tournament but looked befuddled and subdued as he was unable to cope with Nadal’s ferocious start.
While Djokovic had come back from two sets down to win on four previous occasions, none of those were against Nadal. Even more crucially, none of them were against Nadal at Roland Garros.
Better serving and more aggressive returning by the Serb, who was playing fewer of the drop shots that Nadal had read with speed of mind and fleet of foot earlier, made the third set more like the contest the world had expected.
Frailties were still loitering, however, and appeared again when he produced a double fault to hand over the crucial break in the 11th game which enabled Nadal to serve out victory.
“I am not so pleased with the way I played but I was definitely outplayed by a better player on the court,” Djokovic said.
BBC radio commentator David Law
“I didn’t know whether he [Nadal] had that sort of level of tennis in him at the age of 34. It is 15 years since he first won this thing. Here he is in his 30s playing utterly devastating tennis.
“Novak Djokovic was made to lose. I don’t think two players could have stopped Rafael Nadal today.
“It is an absolutely massive moment in the sport that he has drawn level with Roger Federer.”
GB Davis Cup captain Leon Smith on BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra:
“Nadal has done it again. At 34 he is still the one to beat when it comes to Roland Garros.
“He played a dream match. The level of tennis that Rafa brought today was out of this world.
“On today’s form, Rafa looks physically in such good condition.
“Djokovic being a year or two younger, he has years and years ahead of him and is able to do that across a number of surfaces as well.
“It is going to be fascinating [how the race to win the most Grand Slam titles goes]. It is interesting to hear Rafa play down the importance of the record to him.”