Rafael Nadal debuted at Roland Garros in 2005, just before the 19th birthday. Already establishing himself as one of the best clay-courters on the Tour, Rafa defeated Roger Federer and Mariano Puerta to win the title and becme the last teenager with a Major crown. Forging an unprecedented dominance at a single Major, Rafa has lost only two matches in Paris in the previous 16 years, winning mind-blowing 13 titles and failing to leave Paris with the trophy only thrice. Speaking about his worst Roland Garros moments ahead of his 17th appearance in Paris, Nadal mentioned that 2009 loss to Robin Soderling and the withdrawal in 2016 after two matches. Afterfour straight Roland Garros titles, Nadal experienced the fourth-round loss in 2009 to Robin Soderling, who stunned Rafa 6-2, 6-7, 6-4, 7-6 in three hours and 30 minutes on Court Philippe-Chatrier.
Struggling with knee tendinitis that would force him to skip the grass season, Nadal couldn’t prevail against the rival who threw everything he had at him, playing better in the decisive moments to find himself over the top. The Swede served well, defending his second serve more efficiently and taking every opportunity to attack and control the rallies. Hitting the ball on the rise from both wings, Soderling tamed his groundstrokes to avoid cheap errors that would cost him at least one more set if he wasn’t careful. Nadal had only four break chances in the entire encounter, converting two of those and suffering five breaks from six opportunities offered to the Swede, losing the edge in the pivotal moments to hit the exit door. The defending champion stayed in touch with Soderling in the shortest points.
Rafael Nadal failed to win Roland Garros title only thrice in the last 16 years.
Still, he was beaten badly in the mid-range exchanges between five and eight strokes, with Soderling engineering the rallies more efficiently to gain a crucial advantage. Also, the Swede was on the level terms with his rival in the most extended rallies that saw ten strokes or more, with Nadal lacking power in his shots or the mental endurance that would guide him towards the victory. In 2016, Nadal dropped only nine games against Sam Groth and Facundo Bagnis in the opening two rounds before giving Marcel Granollers a walkover ahead of the third round due to the wrist injury. The Spaniard returned stronger in 2017 and claimed four consecutive titles, hoping for the fifth in a row in the next two weeks.
“To be honest, I played better in Monte Carlo and Rome than at Roland Garros in my early years. It’s more challenging to have a good feeling at Roland Garros; the court is enormous, and there are different sensations. I never had bad feelings here, but I also had excellent feelings in other tournaments on this surface. My worst Roland Garros memories are, without a doubt, that Robin Soderling loss from 2009 and also 2016 when I withdrew due to a wrist injury. Even though I don’t like to say it, what I have accomplished in Paris is indeed very special. I’m grateful, and I understand the gesture: I accomplished something challenging to imagine,” Rafael Nadal said.