We are told that success in sport is never guaranteed. Those quick to reel out said words of warning can point to various examples throughout history of odds being bucked in order to support their argument.
Just when you think a certain result is set in stone, along comes a Buster Douglas to stun Mike Tyson, the New England Patriots to rip up the Greatest Show on Turf or an FA Cup giant killing to rival Leicester City’s remarkable Premier League title triumph. These things are not supposed to happen, but logic can be thrown out of the window on any given day of the week, not just Sunday.
Back in 2009, Rafael Nadal found himself on the receiving end of an upset that nobody – even the man delivering it – could have seen coming. The undisputed King of Clay, who will be a heavy favourite at Space Casino to claim another French Open crown in 2022, suffered a barely believable defeat in Paris some 13 years ago.
A Spanish superstar headed into that Grand Slam with 31 successive victories and four consecutive overall crowns at Roland-Garros to his name, with the general consensus being that he had become untouchable.
He proved in a four-set outing against Robin Soderling that he was not, with a stunning fourth-round reversal sending Nadal off to start his preparations for the grass court season much earlier than he had grown accustomed to.
A revenge of sorts was to be enjoyed in the final 12 months later, when a Swedish foe was seen off in straight sets, and there has been the considerable consolation of a further eight Paris titles since then.
The aforementioned outing against Soderling was a rare blip on a pretty pristine copybook for an all-time great, with Nadal’s record on a favoured surface making for quite stunning reading.
Across 108 outings in the French capital, he has secured 105 victories and suffered just three defeats – giving him a win ratio of 97.2 per cent – with eternal rival Novak Djokovic the only other man to have got the better of him.
Quite simply, whenever an iconic figure with a record-setting 21 major honours to his name steps out onto a surface that has a red tinge to it, his opponent may as well pack up the bags he came with and spare himself the suffering that will inevitably follow.
Optimism will of course spring eternal, with nobody ever beaten before a ball has been kicked or backhand sliced in anger, but sometimes the writing really is on the wall. Hope is being offered by niggling injuries and Father Time, but it also continues to be crushed by an evergreen performer who remains at the peak of his powers.
It may be the case that there are no certainties when teams or individuals lock horns on a competitive sporting stage, with all possible outcomes theoretically on the table whenever said contests begin, but Nadal has come as close as anybody to mastering the art of perfection and it still takes a brave soul to bet against him.