A brief history of Roland-Garros champion Rafael Nadal, in 5 statues

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It’s hard enough to beat reigning Roland Garros champion Rafael Nadal on the red clay courts at Roland Garros, where he won a record 13 singles titles.

But imagine the psychological obstacle of competing with a player so dominant that he is immortalized in a statue outside the stadium?

That’s the challenge Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer and other rivals face this week in Paris, where Roland Garros officials just unveiled a new sculpture of Nadal near the main entrance to the tennis complex.

It’s an unusual tribute to an active player who is always at the top of his game, but there is nothing usual about Rafa’s race to Roland Garros. His all-time record is 100-2. The inscription on the statue may as well read: “Give up hope, all of you who enter here.”

The steel sculpture is also far from being Rafa’s first rendering, which inspired him … unusual artistic tributes over the years.

Here are a few.

Rafa, in steel

The new statue, by Spanish sculptor Jordi Díez Fernandez, is made entirely of steel and stands almost 10 feet tall. It shows Nadal playing with his signature intensity, fluffy hair as he pursues his punishing forehand.

But some wondered if that was a little premature, given that Nadal, 34, does not appear to be close to retirement.

A writer calls the statue “disrespectful” to Nadal’s opponents and asks, “Why not wait a few more years to erect the statue when all is said and done?”

… In bronze

In February 2020, Nadal received this commemorative sculpture, which appears to show the Spaniard in the middle of the service, after an exhibition match to inaugurate the Rafa Nadal Academy Kuwait in the Kuwaiti capital.

… In clay

Nike unveiled this life-size statue, made from the crushed brick clay used at Roland Garros, two days after Nadal defeated Novak Djokovic in 2014 to win his ninth French Open title.

The statue was then displayed in a Nike store in Paris.

Some critics have noted that the racquet is in Nadal’s right hand, even though he is left-handed.

… Waxen

This figure of a Nadal with a baby’s face is in the Madame Tussaud wax museum in Amsterdam. Similar waxy incarnations of the tennis star have been on display at other Madame Tussauds in London and Istanbul.

… In terracotta

Nadal posed with this terracotta statue of himself in 2007 in Madrid, where he was participating in a tournament.

The statue, in the style of an ancient Chinese warrior, was designed for display at the Shanghai Masters tournament held in Shanghai in November. Federer and Djokovic also obtained statues of terracotta warriors.

Even Rafa seems a little unsure about this one.

In Legos. Haha, no it’s Andy Murray

The All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club displayed this Lego statue of Briton Andy Murray on the day of his match against Nadal at Wimbledon in 2011.

If that was supposed to bring Murray luck, it didn’t work. Nadal won in four sets.



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