The coveted La Decima. Real Madrid won their 10th UEFA Champions League title two years ago after a 12 year wait. Now, Rafael Nadal marches on this clay court season, in search of La Decima, which translates to “The Tenth”. The connection between Real Madrid and Rafael Nadal is a major one as the former world number one is a big-time supporter of the club. Both are important part of the rich history in their respective country and respective sports.
However, as we look onto Nadal’s road to his potential 10th French Open title, we compare the two roads to each side’s prospective (or potential in Nadal’s case), La Decima.
From Kings of Their World to Princes of Their Game
In the late 90s and early 2000s, Real Madrid dominated the footballing world winning three UEFA Champions League titles in a five-year span as well as three La Liga titles. The crown they once held as Kings of Europe was snatched from them as they saw eight different teams win the European Cup in the 12-year span that they were shut out. The most successful of those eight, none other than Madrid’s greatest rival, FC Barcelona.
The Catalans won three titles, in 2006, 2009, and 2011 before Los Merengues captured their 10th title. Not only did the Catalans dominate the European field, but they were also the Kings of Spain. The Blaugrana won six league titles compared to four for Madrid in that span and also won six Supercopa de Espana’s in that span, double what Madrid won. The once Kings of Spain had been relegated to a Prince, and now Nadal had suffered the same fate.
After a 2012 filled with injury, Rafael Nadal returned to tennis with a bang in 2013, winning two Grand Slam titles as well as five Masters 1000s titles en route to regaining the world number one ranking. Despite that, 2014 saw him struggle with injury once again, even getting booed in the Australian Open final, citing a back injury though the crowd thought it was gamesmanship. The lone bright spot of that 2014 season for him was capturing his ninth French Open title and winning yet another Masters 1000s title in Madrid.
By the time 2015 rolled around, it was evident who was the King of Tennis, and it was Novak Djokovic, one of Nadal’s greatest rivals throughout his career. If 2014 saw the Serb become King again, then 2015 was an emphatic reminder that no one will be dethroning him anytime soon. 2015 saw the stellar Djokovic win a season-record six Masters 1000s titles, make the finals of all four Grand Slams, winning three of them, and captured the ATP World Tour Finals title in the O2. When it was all said and done, it all came crashing down quickly for Nadal while it was a slow fall from the throne for the Los Blancos. The throne was still in reach for Madrid by the time they reclaimed it back in 2014, can the nine-time French Open champion do the same?
The Thorn In Their Side
Throughout their respective careers, the biggest rivals for Madrid and Nadal were Barcelona and Roger Federer respectively. It just happens that both throughout 2013 and 2014 and even now, the thorns in each of the respective sides is another rival, Atletico Madrid and Djokovic.
Since the hiring of Diego Simeone, Atletico has had Real’s number. Under the Argentine, they finally won their first game at the Bernabeu in a 14-year span with a win in the Copa del Rey. In their 17 total meetings since Simeone took over, Los Blancos have been held to five wins, though two of those wins saw Madrid win La Decima and knockout their city rivals out of the Champions League last year.
Rafael Nadal had dominated the head-to-head against Novak Djokovic, but the last two-plus years saw a turnaround as the Serb leads the head-to-head now. Despite that, Nadal’s two biggest wins in recent memory over Djokovic have come to deny the Serb a coveted French Open title, just like how Real Madrid’s two recent wins over Simeone’s Atletico have seen them miss out on potential glory.
2013 saw Nadal and Djokovic clash in the French Open semifinal. It was a thrilling back-and-forth encounter, but Nadal outlasted him 9-7 in the fifth. In the 2014 French Open final, the Spaniard overcame a dropped first set to win his ninth French Open title. Despite the Serb winning their last French Open encounter last year, the coveted jewel of his Career Grand Slam crown is still missing.
The Leadup to La Decima
For Real Madrid, their leadup was a massive Copa del Rey final showdown against Barcelona. At 1-1 with under five minutes to play, Welsh winger Gareth Bale turned on the jets despite being knocked out of play by Marc Bartra, to continue the advantage played by the referee and score the winning goal.
Later that year, Los Blancos clinched La Decima over rivals Atletico, winning 4-1 in the final despite being down 1-0 in the final seconds of the game before Sergio Ramos scored the equalizer… And well… The rest is history.
Now in the leadup to Nadal’s potential La Decima. He’s won a title in Monte Carlo, his first Masters 1000 title since his win at the Mutua Madrid Open in 2014. He’s also won a title in Barcelona for a matter of fact. Should Nadal not win another Masters title leading up to Roland Garros, this Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters title is his Copa del Rey title, a consolation should he not win the French. However, just like his favorite soccer team did in 2014, Nadal is looking to regain the title of King once again this clay season.