French Open 2012: Rafael Nadal Faces History as He Searches for 11th Slam

Marcus ChinCorrespondent IMay 23, 2012

PARIS, FRANCE - JUNE 05:  Rafael Nadal of Spain celebrates match point during the men's singles final match between Rafael Nadal of Spain and Roger Federer of Switzerland on day fifteen of the French Open at Roland Garros on June 5, 2011 in Paris, France.  (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
Alex Livesey/Getty Images

The biggest news heading into the French Open in a week's time is the possibility of Rafael Nadal winning a record seventh title.

It would also be his 11th Grand Slam title overall, a number he has fought hard to reach over the last year. He won his last major at last year's French Open to bring him into double-digits, but has since been thwarted in three finals by Novak Djokovic, at Wimbledon, the US Open and the Australian Open.

Reaching his 11th title would bring Nadal into illustrious company, and it could come at no better place than at his beloved Roland Garros.

Since the Open Era in tennis began in 1968 only three mean have won at least 11 Slams entirely in that time—Bjorn Borg, Pete Sampras, and Roger Federer. Borg stopped at 11, while Sampras mustered 14, and Federer currently holds the all-time record at 16.

An interesting statistic pertinent to Nadal's own upcoming eighth run at Paris is that these three men all won their 11th Grand Slam at the event where they had the most success. This is a brief breakdown of those momentous occasions:

Bjorn Borg - won his 11th at the 1981 French Open, defeating a then-fledgling Ivan Lendl in five sets, 6–1, 4–6, 6–2, 3–6, 6–1. It was his sixth title at Paris, which is the current record tied with Nadal.

Pete Sampras - won his 11th at Wimbledon in 1998, overcoming Goran Ivanisevic 6-7, 7-6, 6-4, 3-6, 6-2. It was only to be his fifth of seven titles at the All-England Club.

Roger Federer - won his 11th at Wimbledon in 2007, edging past Nadal, 7-6, 4-6, 7-6, 2-6, 6-2. It tied Borg's record for five consecutive Wimbledon titles.

Two crucial facts to be gleaned from this are that the 11th titles were won over five sets, and at least in Borg's and Federer's cases were historic occasions. The 11th is a landmark in any great player's career, and no one has never won more than six after reaching 10. The first step is naturally a significant one.

By a process of extrapolation these statistics would suggest that Nadal is unlikely to have an entirely easy time of it in winning at Paris, should he ultimately succeed. The history is there and has been laid bare on numerous occasions already—a seventh record-breaking title. Considering that even Federer hasn't done the same to Sampras' record of seven Wimbledons, it's easy to see, at just 25, how illustrious a career Nadal has already had.

There is probably a consensus on Nadal's superior domination at Paris, as opposed to Federer at Wimbledon. The former has only ever lost one match at Paris, while the latter has already suffered two quarterfinal exits in the last two years at Wimbledon.

While Nadal rides into Paris on a hot streak, history does suggest that winning the 11th slam won't be an easy task. He has, moreover, lost his last three slam finals to Djokovic, and would be eager, maybe over-anxious, to prove that Djokovic's dominance has only been temporary.

Of course, we know that even if Nadal wins at the French again he will be seeded to face Djokovic in the final—could that be the writing on the wall?