What did Roger Federer say last month after losing to Rafael Nadal in the Madrid final, that the clay season would be determined in Paris? Well, it’s been determined and once again Nadal in the King of Clay.
In his best and most complete match of the tournament, Nadal pounded on Robin Soderling 6-4, 6-2, 6-4 to capture his 5th career French Open title.
“Very important victory for me,” Nadal said. “I think one of the most important victories in my career, I think. Yeah, I told you 100 times, but was a difficult year for me the last year. So after this tournament last year was a difficult year, and I worked a lot to be here. I was very nervous during all the tournament, because I know before that that I was ready to try to win another time, and I saw the chances there. But the very positive thing is today I was ready to play. I was ready to play with calm and to try my best and to enjoy the match. I did, and was a very special day.”
Soderling pushed Nadal in the opening set earning a break chances early on, but as he does so often Nadal didn’t give an inch in the 2-hour, 18-minute affair.
“Was very difficult to play against Robin,” added Nadal. “I think he’s a great player. But at the same time, very difficult to play against because he has a big serve, very flat shots are long from the baseline, very good shots from both sides, forehand and backhand, and is very difficult to control. It’s almost impossible to have the control of the points against him. Today I felt great physically. I felt perfect mentally, too. I run. My movements was much better today than the rest of all the tournament.”
Nadal seized a break in the very next game for a 3-2 lead, and then followed with a first set victory. In the second set Nadal pulled away early as Soderling grew weary as Nadal was simply not missing. And in the third Nadal raced out to a quick 2-0 lead and the match was all but over.
For the second time Nadal won the French Open without dropping a single set, equaling the efforts of Bjorn Borg.
At 24, Nadal is already halfway to Pete Sampras’s 14 Slams, and he ties John McEnroe and Mats Wilander on the all-Time Grand Slam chart.
“As I said, it’s a huge pleasure for me to be here in Paris,” said Nadal. “I am in Paris. I won in Paris. I’m very lucky, and I was very fortunate in life to have had the opportunity of experiencing all this at the age of 24. Never in my wildest dream would I have dreamt of such beautiful presents. Life was very kind to me.”
Soderling, who had beaten Nadal in their last two meetings, wasn’t up to a reprise to his stunning victory a year ago in Paris.
“Of course I didn’t play as good this year as I did against him last year,” Soderling said. “I didn’t serve as well. I wasn’t hitting the ball as clean. It was tough today. I didn’t really get into the match.”
Nadal has now won 22 straight matches and he’ll head to Queen’s and then Wimbledon where he’ll play his first grass court tennis in two years.
“The confidence always is the most important thing. So winning here and winning the last 22 matches on clay is always very good preparation for grass,” said Nadal who won Wimbledon in his last appearance there. “So tomorrow in afternoon I gonna be practicing on Queen’s for not a lot of time. For 45 minutes. Maybe I will love to play doubles on Tuesday there to prepare. And later, sure, I gonna play, I think, singles on Wednesday. So I love this tournament. I love Queen’s always. I enjoy a lot to be there. It’s different tournament because you play in a club. That makes the tournament very special. I am feeling great all the time there.”
Soderling and his fans still have to be pleased with the two weeks despite his subpar performance in the final. Few expected Robin to repeat his runner-up finish a year ago, but after a suspect few tournaments leading up to Paris, the Swede somehow found his form again.
He scored a big win over Federer on Tuesday then overcame Tomas Berdych in five sets on Friday.
It’s hard to say if he will ever breakthrough for a Slam win – I will say he won’t – but having reached the finals of two Majors is still a pretty good career mark.
“Losing a final in a Grand Slam is not great,” said Soderling who also lost in straight sets to Federer last year. “It’s not a great feeling. But, you know, I wasn’t close in any one of them. I lost straight sets last year and the same his year. It’s always tougher if you lose a really, really close match.”
With the win Nadal sweeps all four major clay events (Monte Carlo, Rome, Madrid, Paris), the first time anyone’s ever done that. And recall Nadal was on a 10-month title drought until the clay season.
“The feeling is when you win you know how many hours you had on court, how many hours you was thinking and working to play your best tennis, how much time you wait to win another time a title,” he said. “For me was 11 months without win a title, so a lot of tournaments going back to home without a victory. A lot of moments, difficult moments, because in a few of these tournaments I had to retired for the problems. So is difficult moments to accept I say before, and this, sure, it’s very important for me. It was personal goal to be back at my best. So I did. And for me, sure, the important thing is Roland Garros. But for me the biggest thing is the personal satisfaction to be here, to be here another time and to be at the top level.”
The win also returns the No. 1 ranking to Nadal. Rafa will begin his 47th week at No. 1 tomorrow while Federer, who must defend Wimbledon title points, will have to play catch up as Nadal should hang on to the top spot through July. And Nadal’s ascension puts Federer’s assault on Pete Sampras’s record of 286 weeks at No. 1 on hold, just one painful week shy of the mark.
Federer of course struggled for much of the clay season and in the end he was nowhere to be found the weekend of the French finals. The Swiss will be in Halle this upcoming week trying to get back in the ATP win column for the first time in ten months.
The race for the 2010 year-end No. 1 ranking is officially on, and the greatest ever on clay is in the lead.
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