Rafael Nadal, the “King of Clay”, entered the French Open with what many people saw as a chink in his armor because of three losses on clay during the European tour.
He quickly put that notion to rest as the Spaniard captured his fifth straight and ninth French Open title overall, defeating Serb Novak Djokovic 3-6, 7-5, 6-2, 6-4 on Sunday at Roland Garros.
Nadal cruised through the entire tournament as he has his whole career, losing only two sets over the two week event. He dropped the opening set to Djokovic, but quickly turned it around in the second to gain control of the match.
“It was very important for me to win that second set,” said Nadal. “Without that second set, I don’t know if I would have this trophy with me now.”
The match could have taken a much different turn as the second set rolled on. Already up one set, Djokovic fought back and evened the second frame at five all, setting up a tiebreak situation. On set point, Nadal shot a beautiful forehand return down the baseline that clearly swung the momentum to the Spaniard’s side as he pumped his fists in a passionate display of emotion.
Nadal then seized the opportunity to take advantage of Djokovic’s frustration and fatigue. He reeled off 20 of 26 points in both the second and third sets and quickly sprinted to an early 3-0 lead in the third, eventually capturing the set 6-2 to put Djokovic on the brink.
“The momentum went [to] his side,” said Djokovic. “I started playing quite bad and didn’t move as well. Struggled a little bit physically throughout that third set.”
Down 2-4 in the fourth set, Djokovic put up one more line of resistance. He played outstanding defense and was able to break Nadal’s serve, and then returned a long lob that Nadal smashed into the net to even the set at four.
However, that was all Djokovic would be able to muster up. Nadal held serve to go up 5-4, and then broke Djokovic’s serve to capture the trophy he has become used to lifting.
The title gives him 14 major titles in his career, tying him with Pete Sampras for second all-time, still three behind Roger Federer.
“It’s not a source of motivation for me,” said Nadal when asked if he is chasing Federer’s record. “I’ll follow my own path. Then when my career is over, we’ll count. I don’t really care that much about records. I’ll still play with a lot of intensity. I’ll still be motivated.”
With the victory, Nadal also holds off Djokovic in the Emirates ATP World Tour rankings, and keeps his number one spot. As for Djokovic, the loss denies him of a career Grand Slam for now and he still seeks the elusive French Open trophy that Nadal has hogged from the rest of the competition for the last decade.
“Sorry for him today,” said Nadal after the match. “I think he deserves to win this tournament. I am sure he will do it in the future.”