Photo: Paul ZimmerRafael Nadal (ESP)
Rafael Nadal is officially the ‘King of Clay’ after he completed a four-set victory over Novak Djokovic on Monday to eclipse Bjorn Borg and become the first man to win seven Roland Garros titles. This was his 11th Grand Slam triumph.
After rain had forced the match into a second day, Nadal resumed leading by two-sets-to-one and took another 50 minutes to wrap up a 64 63 26 75 win in 3 hours 49 minutes. The result ended Djokovic’s hopes of holding all four major trophies at the same time, dubbed the ‘Novak Slam’.
The final was shaping up to be a classic on Sunday after Nadal raced into a two sets lead and a further break advantage in the third, only for Djokovic to claw his way back into the match by reeling off eight straight games during a devastating spell before wet weather brought a halt to proceedings.
Nadal flew out of the blocks to take a 3-0 lead in the first set with two breaks of serve, but Djokovic responded with two breaks of his own to level at 3-3. However, the Serb threw away his next service game with a double fault and Nadal took advantage to close out the set 6-4 in 58 minutes.
After exchanging early breaks in the second set, it was the seventh game that again proved pivotal as Nadal broke to take a 4-3 lead. After holding his next serve, the steady drizzle that had been present for much of the match turned into rain and play was suspended for the first time. The players returned over half an hour later and Nadal immediately broke to win the set 6-3 in 56 minutes.
The world No. 2 continued the momentum into the third set and, just like he had in the previous two sets, broke Djokovic’s opening service game to take a 2-0 lead. At this point Nadal looked like he was well on his way to victory, but the world No. 1 doesn’t know when he’s beaten and in an astonishing comeback won six straight games to clinch the set 6-2 in 45 minutes.
Djokovic continued this run into the fourth set and opened up a 2-0 lead, but Nadal finally stopped the rot in the third game before the match succumbed to the rain once again with 2 hours 59 minutes on the match clock. This time there was no respite and the final was called off until 1pm on Monday.
When play got under way again, Nadal immediately broke to draw level and then the fourth set proceeded to go with serve until Djokovic found himself with the balls in his hand at 5-6. A winning forehand from Nadal gave him a championship point and Djokovic, clearly feeling the pressure, delivered a double fault to gift the Spaniard victory and a place in the Roland Garros history books.
Nadal said: "For me is a real emotional day, win another time here. Sure, the seventh is important because I am the player who has more today, but like I said yesterday: that's after. For me, the important thing is win Roland Garros even if it's the first, second, third, or seventh, no? That's what makes me very happy. I'm very happy the way that I played today because I played much more aggressive.
"In my opinion, I started very well yesterday the first three games, played fantastic levels. But later, after that, I felt that I didn't play fantastic yesterday after that first games, no? I felt that today this set I played better than yesterday. My serve especially worked very well, and my forehand, my movements, were more aggressive."
Djokovic said: "This has been a strange final with delays and conditions and two days' length of match. I'm just happy to be in this position, you know, to be playing finals at Roland Garros. I could easily have lost the match in fourth round or even more against Tsonga, but I managed to come to the finals for the first time in my career.
"I should be happy about that, of course. I will be and I am, but in this moment I'm disappointed about this loss because I thought I started to play better in the third set and felt like I could take this match to a fifth set, and then, you know, everything could be possible.
"Unfortunately there has been a rain delay yesterday when I started to feel really good on the court. But look, I don't want to find an excuse in that because the first rain delay maybe helped me a little bit, the second helped him. So that's the way it goes, and the better player won today. So congratulations for that."
Review all action from Paris on the official tournament website: RolandGarros.com