In a sports year wildly disrupted by the pandemic, an upended Grand Slam season concluded on Sunday with one of the most predictable sights in tennis, if not all of sports: Rafael Nadal winning the men’s singles final of the French Open.
Never mind that the tournament finished in October instead of June. Or that it began weeks after the United States Open, which is supposed to be the final Slam, and that it ended as the N.B.A. was playing its 2019-20 championship series in the same month it was supposed to begin the 2020-21 season.
Few things are as reliable, even metronomic, as Nadal’s sovereignty on the red-clay courts of Roland Garros, the tennis complex on the fringe of Paris’s Bois de Bologne. He defeated Novak Djokovic, 6-0, 6-2, 7-5, to win his 13th French Open championship, expanding his record total in the event and equaling Roger Federer’s record of 20 Grand Slam men’s singles titles.
The day before, the women’s singles title was won by an unseeded 19-year-old, Iga Swiatek, who became the first Grand Slam singles champion from Poland.
Nadal, 34, who has never lost a French Open final, now has a 100-2 overall record in the tournament since making his smash-hit debut as a 19-year-old in clam-diggers and a sleeveless shirt in 2005. His 13 titles are five more than any other male singles player has claimed in a specific Grand Slam.
Long before Sunday’s victory, though, Nadal had already captured the spirit of this often-gloomy edition of the French Open.
Much of the time, the weather was cold and gray, the grounds ghostly quiet. The players were all stuck in a hotel meant to cocoon them from the virus, and some doubted whether it was worthwhile.
“I’m going to be honest here,” Ons Jabeur of Tunisia, the 35th-ranked woman in the world, said in the tournament’s early days. “I was like, ‘Why are we playing?’”
And then a voice — the voice of this tournament — rang out on Philippe Chatrier Court.
“The feeling is more sad than usual,” Nadal said during an interview after his first-round victory. “Maybe that’s what it needs to feel like. It needs to be sad. Many people in the world are suffering.”
His words resonated with Jabeur. “If he’s a champion and he doesn’t complain,” she said, “I mean, who I am to complain about it right now?”