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The Story When Rafael Nadal Was Booed at Roland-Garros

Updated: 2 days ago

Tennis player Rafael Nadal photographed with his first Roland-Garros trophy.

A First Roland-Garros for Rafael Nadal

In 2004, a young 17-year-old Spaniard named Rafael Nadal began making a name for himself on the circuit. He had reached a final (Auckland) and won an ATP 250 title (Sopot) in addition to defeating Roger Federer at the Miami Masters 1000.

Before arriving in Paris in 2005, he had taken the circuit by storm, winning two ATP 250 titles (Acapulco and Costa do Sauipe), an ATP 500 title (Barcelona), and two Masters 1000 titles (Monte Carlo and Rome). Thus, Nadal started his first career Roland-Garros on a 17-match winning streak.

A Hostile French Crowd

Although Nadal was very reserved off the court, he was an emotional player on it, celebrating important points with great intensity. It was no surprise that the crowd turned against the young demonstrative player who was diminishing the chances of a French title and threatening the darling of tennis, Roger Federer.

To make matters worse for Rafa, he had to face another young player, 18-year-old Frenchman Richard Gasquet, in the third round. Nadal quickly defeated the crowd favorite in three quick sets, setting up a duel against another French player, the 24th seed Sébastien Grosjean.

Having eliminated one of their best hopes for a title, Nadal was now set to face the last French player left in the draw. The crowd was hostile from the start, but things escalated early in the second set when a controversial line call went in favor of the Spaniard and when the chair umpire refused to inspect the ball mark at Grosjean's request.

The French supporters began to boo and whistle at Nadal for several minutes, despite numerous calls for calm from the umpire and Grosjean himself.

After a 9-minute game delay, Nadal was finally able to serve with a one-set and one-break lead. The whistles and boos seemed to shake the young Spaniard, as he lost the second set 6-3. However, he quickly regained his composure in the third set, dominating Grosjean 6-0 before winning the fourth set 6-3. The rest is history, as Nadal defeated Mariano Puerta in the final to win the first of many French Open.

Late Popularity

Although it might be surprising to see with how adored Rafael Nadal is in Paris today, it took several years for the Parisian crowd to embrace him. We only need to recall his 2009 match against Robin Soderling when the crowd even applauded Nadal's falls.

Theories differ regarding this strange lack of popularity. Could it be due to the emerging rivalry between Federer, the "golden boy" of tennis, and Nadal? The turning point likely came after his 2011 season, during which he lost no fewer than six finals (Indian Wells, Miami, Madrid, Rome, Wimbledon, and the U.S. Open) to Novak Djokovic. This undeniably proved that Nadal was human and that a new threat to Federer's records had emerged.

Nadal bounced back the following year by beating Djokovic in Monte Carlo, Rome, and Roland-Garros, savoring a sweet revenge on his rival. It shows that fans love an underdog story, much like Rocky Balboa.

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