Spain’s Rafael Nadal became only the fourth man to reach 1,000 match wins that should have drawn blasting cheers and a standing ovation from the crowd for his milestone, yet the 20,000-seater stadium left completely empty because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Only a fist-bump from Feliciano Lopez in celebration upon his achievement, as Nadal won by 4-6, 7-6 (5), 6-4 in a subdued atmosphere more worthy of a library study area than a sports arena.
“The real feeling, the personal feeling is completely different,” Nadal said. “It makes a big difference that the court is empty.”
He joins towering company in Jimmy Connors (1,274), Roger Federer (1,242) and Ivan Lendl (1,068) as the only men in the 1,000-wins club since the Open era began in 1968.
“I know it is a very special number, one thousand,” Nadal said. “Even if it’s not the same to celebrate something like this without a crowd.”
The 34-year-old smiled as he posed at the net with the number 1,000 displayed on court in a brief ceremony, then walked off center court just like any other match.
This is Nadal’s second milestone he reached in Paris this 2020, having won the French Open last month to tie Federer with 20 majors. But while 1,000 fans cheered him at Roland Garros, none were at the Bercy Arena.
“Of course it’s sad — the level of energy is difficult to compare,” Nadal said. “So the feeling, even if 1,000 [fans] or 1,500 or 2,000, is not a lot.”
Nadal’s first win came in May 2002 at the age of 15, when he beat Paraguayan Ramon Delgado in the first round at Mallorca.
A year later, the 16-year-old Nadal stunned the tennis world by beating French Open champion Albert Costa under floodlights in the second round at the Monte Carlo Masters.
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At 24, he had already reached 500 wins. His career tally also includes 35 Masters titles and 86 tournament victories overall.
Feliciano Lopez won their first meeting back in 2003 and defeated Nadal four times in total. He had 22 aces and troubled a sluggish Nadal, who failed to convert six break points in the second set but broke immediately at the start of the third.
“I started the match the worst way possible, especially against a big server like Feli,” Nadal said. “After that, I played under a lot of pressure the rest of the match, but I found a way.”
Nadal, who has never won this tournament, next opponent will be Australia’s Jordan Thompson, who upset 15th-seeded Croat Borna Coric 2-6, 6-4, 6-2.