It’s hard enough to beat defending French Open champion Rafael Nadal on the red clay courts of Roland Garros, where he has won a record 13 singles titles.
But imagine the psychological hurdle of competing against a player so dominant that he is immortalized in a statue outside the stadium?
That’s the challenge Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer and other rivals face this week in Paris, where French Open officials just unveiled a new sculpture of Nadal by the tennis complex’s main entrance.
It’s an unusual tribute to an active player who is still at the top of his game, but there’s nothing usual about Rafa’s run at Roland Garros. His all-time record there is 100-2. The inscription on the statue may as well read, “Abandon hope, all ye who enter here.”
The steel sculpture is also far from the first rendering of Rafa, who has inspired some … unusual artistic tributes over the years.
Here are just a few.
Rafa, in steel
The new statue, by Spanish sculptor Jordi Díez Fernandez, is made entirely of steel and stands almost 10 feet tall. It shows Nadal playing with his signature intensity, hair flying as he follows through on his punishing forehand.
But some have wondered whether it’s a little premature, given that the 34-year-old Nadal doesn’t appear close to retirement.
One writer calls the statue “disrespectful” to Nadal’s opponents and asks, “Why not just wait a few more years to put up the statue when all is said and done?”
… in bronze
In February 2020, Nadal was given this commemorative sculpture, which appears to show the Spaniard mid-serve, after an exhibition match to inaugurate the Rafa Nadal Academy Kuwait in the Kuwaiti capital.
… in clay
Nike unveiled this life-size statue, made from the crushed-brick clay used at Roland Garros, two days after Nadal beat Novak Djokovic in 2014 to claim his ninth French Open title.
The statue was later displayed at a Nike store in Paris.
Some critics noted the racket is in Nadal’s right hand, even though he is left-handed.
… in wax
This figure of a baby-faced Nadal stands in Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum in Amsterdam. Similar waxy incarnations of the tennis star have been displayed at other Madame Tussaud’s in London and Istanbul.
… in terra-cotta
Nadal posed with this terra-cotta statue of himself in 2007 in Madrid, where he was competing in a tournament.
The statue, in the style of an ancient Chinese warrior, was made for display at the Shanghai Masters tournament held in Shanghai that November. Federer and Djokovic got terra-cotta warrior statues, too.
Even Rafa looks a little unsure about this one.
In Legos. Haha, no, that’s Andy Murray
The All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club displayed this Lego statue of Great Britain’s Andy Murray on the day of his match against Nadal at Wimbledon in 2011.
If it was supposed to bring Murray luck, it didn’t work. Nadal won in four sets.
A brief history of French Open champ Rafael Nadal, in 5 statues Wire Services/ CNN.