The impression that Paris has made on me since I first came here in 1976, on my study trip, has remained practically unchanged. In those years, we Spaniards openly admired that more modern and sensitive society that we aspired to emulate and, nevertheless, in a short time we began to assert indisputably that the French are envious of us and that our sporting successes are very bad.
Since Rafael won his first Roland Garros in 2005, being a debutant in the French Grand Slam, we have felt (I by extension, of course) nothing but expectation and a warm welcome towards the young Spanish tennis player, a growing affection year after year and title after title, to end with open admiration as Rafael has been breaking records and adding his 13 majors on the clay of Paris to date.
It is true that we lived an unpleasant experience when a large part of the public applauded my nephew’s defeat against Robin Soderling, in 2009, as well as the mistake of the French Minister Roselyne Bachelot who accused him, without any proof, of doping five years ago. But it is also true that both events have remained today as something anecdotal and corrected by the immense and repeated displays of esteem and respect.
The tournament director, Guy Forget, and his entire team have always showered us with attentions and have celebrated his birthday every June 3 as if it were a child. The sports press and the general press have dedicated many covers and reports full of praise to him throughout all these years.
The French institutions have awarded him several prestigious recognitions, such as the Grand Prize of the Sports Academy, in a ceremony held at the National Assembly in 2009, or the key to Paris that the mayor Anne Hidalgo gave him, after a vote that the City Council resolved unanimously.
In 2017, when Rafael lifted his tenth cup at Roland Garros, I excitedly attended, like our entire family, the biggest standing ovation I have ever seen in a tennis stadium. And this year, as soon as he arrived at the Bois de Boulogne facilities, Rafael has discovered an impressive 800-kilo sculpture, made of steel by the Spanish artist Jordi Díez Fernández, as a tribute and recognition of his sporting achievements.
The sculpture fits perfectly into the new Stade de Roland Garros, which has undergone a comprehensive reform that, without sacrificing an iota of elegance, has replaced the traditional coquetry with a more impersonal magnificence, but more in keeping with the new times. . And it distills what, in my opinion, has been giving the French to Rafael over the years: his strength, his passion, his struggle and his commitment.
Some virtues that Rafael continues to maintain and that, together with the fact that he has lifted the recent tournaments in Barcelona and Rome, and that he has beaten players of the stature of Novak Djokovic, Alexander Zverev or Stefanos Tsitsipas, fill me with hope of see him win, too, his fourteenth trophy at the Philippe Chatrier. In his own home and among his own people.