He was asked what he thought, really thought, in the locker room after the victory, and he explained that there were so many obligations — hands to shake, questions to answer — that it was hard to have much time to think. But he gave it a shot.
“Well, the answer is quite simple,” he said. “I think probably the same as you. That in the end — and I don’t like to say it myself — but it’s something that is really unique, something that you can’t dream of, winning 11 times the same tournament. But it happened, and as always I would like to thank life for giving me this opportunity. Many people work as much as I do or even more and haven’t had my luck. That being said, yes, winning 11 times here is a lot.
“I can’t tell you any more than that.”
It is all in that answer, really: the humility, the reluctant realism. There has been some luck: Who could have imagined that Novak Djokovic, who seemed to have Nadal’s number on clay for good in 2015 and 2016, would fade from prominence so quickly? But without Nadal’s humility and internal drive, he would never have been able to keep pushing himself; to keep doing the unglamorous work to recover from physical setbacks, most recently the psoas muscle problem that forced him to retire in the middle of the Australian Open in January and then kept him from playing another tournament until early April.
“A lot of months with problems,” Nadal said. “So coming back and having the chance to win in Monte Carlo, Barcelona, Rome, and now especially here, it’s very emotional for me.”
He cried during the awards ceremony, which he has done before here. But these tears came as he held the trophy and received an extended ovation from the crowd that felt more like an extended recognition of his staying power.
It has rarely been a love affair. The French like their underdogs, and Nadal has too often drained the suspense out of their tournament. Both he and his uncle Toni Nadal resented the way the crowd cheered against him in the fourth round in 2009 as he lost to Robin Soderling, the Swedish outsider who is one of only two men to have beaten Nadal at Roland Garros.
There also have been insinuations and suspicions, reflected in the comment in 2016 by Roselyne Bachelot, a former French minister for health and sport, on French television that Nadal’s seven-month injury layoff in 2012 was “probably due to a positive doping test.”