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After collecting his first decoration on the red clay of Rome — which had been preceded by his first prize on the red clay of Barcelona, which subsequently was countered with his first prize on the red clay of Monte Carlo — Nadal was requested that day if he agreed with the idea that all this success could make him a favorite pick for his first decoration on the red clay of Paris soon thereafter.

Within a response brimming with a mix of humility and common sense,” Nadal noted , yes, it did seem he was deemed the favorite for Roland Garros every time he won a match on the surface, however”after two weeks, I don’t know if I (would ) play exactly the same like now, no?” And, so, really, the favored for the French Open ought to be whoever has been playing the finest during the French Open itself.

We all know how that turned out back then and, more often than not, ever since.

When his favorite tournament begins Sunday — May, not September, as it did last year due to the pandemic, and with audiences numbering more than 5,000 on-site daily at the start and 10,000 or more by the ending, not only 1,000, like last year — Nadal will be pursuing a 14th championship in at Roland Garros.

That will break his own record he keeps breaking and, of even more historic heft, go along with four triumphs in the U.S. Opens, two at Wimbledon and one at the Australian Open to give the indefatigable lefty out of Spain a total of 21 Grand Slam titles in all, which could divide the men’s mark he shares with Roger Federer.

There are, certainly, other stories to follow along the 15 days of play in Paris.

Federer’s return after 15 months from the Grand Slam point because of two operations on his knee. No. 1-ranked Novak Djokovic’s effort to close in one major title of his rivals by getting his 19th, while also bcoming the first man in the professional age to win every Slam tournament double. Members of the younger group, for example Stefanos Tsitsipas and Alexander Zverev, are still trying to get a first, meanwhile.

Serena Williams, owner of 23 Slam singles trophies, is engaging in the final French Open of the 30s. Naomi Osaka, who has won four majors on hard courts, is trying to get beyond the third round at Roland Garros for the first time — following declaring she will not speak to the press throughout the championship. Two women can say they’re defending French Open titles: 2020 champion Iga Swiatek, of course, but in addition 2019 winner Ash Barty, that didn’t enter the event this past year due to the pandemic.

Osaka, that opens the event at Court Philippe Chatrier against Patricia Maria Tig of Romania, is among a half-dozen major winners on the Day One program.

Nadal’s reign is so impressive, so unprecedented, a 10-foot statue was introduced in his honor at the area this week — a rare tribute to a busy athlete.

“It is correct I did something very unique in this event,” said Nadal, who turns 35 on Thursday.

He is 100-2 for his career in the French Open, 459-42 overall (.916 winning percentage) on clay, with 62 of his own 88 titles on the surface, such as 12 at Barcelona, 11 at Monte Carlo and 10 at Rome.

“For this time, I have been playing well during this part of the year,” Nadal said, by way of explanation. “Likely the clay adheres nicely to my game, no?”

There are so many steps of the man’s mastery, obviously, but how about this one: The list of players who can boast of holding a winning record on clay against Nadal consists of Alex Corretja, Olivier Mutis and Andrey Rublev.

That is the list.

Each is 1-0 against him.

“He is one of the legends,” said Rublev, a 22-year-old from Russia who beat Nadal in Monte Carlo in April.

Over time, Nadal’s rare losses on clay have become a lot more newsworthy than his successes.

What has not changed from May 2005 to May 2021: As the French Open gets underway, the guy from Mallorca is the man to beat.

“I perform with enthusiasm, with clear targets and with love for the sport, no? Nadal said. “Just keep playing with the right intensity and at precisely the exact same time have enough enthusiasm to go on court daily and try to be better participant. That is the whole thing.”