There’s no doubt Rafael Nadal is the greatest clay courter to ever live. That’s only further highlighted by his insane 13 titles on the red clay in Paris, likely to be 14 in just a few weeks. Just before the 2021 edition of Roland Garros kicks off, however, the French Tennis Federation will unveil a brand new six-meter (20-foot) statue of the Spaniard on the grounds.
Let’s get this clear: Does the 20 time Grand Slam champion deserve a statue at Roland Garros? Well, the answer most people will never disagree with is yes, his results speak for themself. With a stunning 100 wins to just two losses in the French capital–something no player has even come remotely close to achieving at any event, let alone a Grand Slam.
The issue starts when you realize the statue is there as of now, while Rafael Nadal is not only a current active player, but also the heavy favorite for the title. In most other sports, statues commemorating legends are often done after retirement, such as the iconic statue of Michael Jordan in Chicago created a year after he had retired from professional basketball (for the first time, at least). It just signifies all they’ve done in their career at a certain event or/and for a team in particular. But this is putting it up before the story has even finished.
Now there’s the side of things which a number of people have already pointed out: it’s simply unfair. When the top players in the game get the show courts again and again, it makes sense. Ultimately, those are the players who bring in the most fans and TV audiences, there’s no wonder they’re on the biggest courts–even if it comes with advantages. But now we’re only adding to that further by a tournament showing incredible bias towards one player with this statue. Whilst the likes of Roger Federer and Nadal have had courts named after them, it’s worth noting those courts host ATP 500 events. That’s also unfair, but this is a Grand Slam, as big as events get in tennis. There’s no reason Grand Slams should be showing bias to any player while they’re still active on tour.
Adding to that, while the 34-year-old is active and playing fellow colleagues at the event, it’s also somewhat disrespectful to their opponents to think they’re playing a “god” that the statue signifies. There’s simply no reason to mystify someone while they’re still an active player in this sport, let alone at one of the biggest events in the world. Just imagine if Roger Federer had one at Wimbledon or Novak Djokovic at the Australian Open. It just wouldn’t feel right either while both are still playing.
To conclude, I’m not against the statue. One way or another it was perhaps always going to happen given his absurd record. But I am against the timing of it all. Given the Spaniard is almost 35 years old, it’s safe to say there’s not many years left for him on tour either. Why not just wait a few more years to put up the statue when all is said and done?
Main Photo from Getty.