Nadal Fulfills French Open Destiny in First Try

Posted on June 6, 2005

Rafael Nadal's sixth claycourt title of the year came Sunday at the French Open where the 19-year-old No. 4 seed outlasted unseeded Argentine Mariano Puerta 6-7, 6-3, 6-1, 7-5 to fulfill his destiny as an eventual winner at Roland Garros -- in his first attempt.

Touted as the future of claycourt tennis, but kept out of Roland Garros the last two years with injury, Nadal became the first player since Mats Wilander in 1982 to win the event in his first appearance, and now looks on course to eclipse Wilander's record of nine tournament titles during his teenage years.

"Yeah, won here for me is a surprise, no?" said Nadal, giving it a go in English at his post-match conference after the final. "So I play -- I am playing very good. Like now, I am playing good like January. Like now -- I play very good all season, and I won the last three tournaments before this one. I won in Monte Carlo, Barcelona and Rome, and that is important for my confidence for in case this tournament, no?"

Puerta put Nadal on the defense early in the first set with his free-swinging forehand in the all-lefty, all-Babolat-powered match, with the ball jumping from the competitors strings like the poorly-digitalized rallies in last year's "Wimbledon" movie -- but with better acting.

Nadal won key breaks to take the second and third sets, but in the fourth Puerta held set points at 5-4, but the scampering Nadal fought them off while his Argentine opponent appeared a step slower in failing to close out his service.

"I had the possibility of going into a fifth set," Puerta said through a translator. "Unfortunately, it was not the case, but he must be given credit because there were three points where he really went to get the ball. I could have been a bit more lucky. One point was a couple of centimeters away...But it was a beautiful match all the same. I was ready to go into the fifth set. I was one point away."

Nadal fell to the court with arms outstretched after match point, then cried at his courtside seat.

"These moments are very strong," Nadal said through a translator. "These moments are moments when everything comes upon you. All the work you've been doing during all those years, the sacrifices. When you reach your goal, it's an extraordinary moment. For the first time I cried after winning a match. It never happened to me before. I believe it's perfectly normal."