It wasn’t a textbook performance from Rafael Nadal today in the French Open final, but the Spaniard will take it. Facing his arch rival for a 25th time, Nadal fended off a stubborn Roger Federer 7-5, 7-6(3), 5-7, 6-1 to capture his sixth career French Open title, and 10th Slam overall.
“It’s a big personal satisfaction to win this tournament, especially when you started without playing your best,” Nadal said.
“Roger, I think, played a fantastic tournament,” he added. “Today I think he did well. He was a little bit unlucky at the first set, and after that, he came back fantastically well in the second. In the third I had 4-2, but seriously, I think he played very, very good from that moment to the beginning of the fourth.”
At the start the match was all Federer’s. The Swiss blitzed a nervous, lackluster Nadal early racing out to a 5-2 lead thanks to some exceptional serving and vintage shot-making. With the set surely in Federer’s hand Nadal promptly woke up stringing together five straight games to steal the set.
Nadal’s run wasn’t over as the Spaniard continued to assault Federer going up a break immediately in the second. With the crowd slowly losing interest as the Federer errors began to pile up, Roger resurrected his game earning the break back. Nadal pushed back ahead and eventually served for the second set at 5-4, deuce when a brief shower interrupted play for about 10 minutes.
When play resumed it was a new Federer. The former No. 1 sparkled pressing Rafa and eventually breaking him back. Suddenly, it was a match again. But in the subsequent tiebreaker it was all Nadal who took it 7-3.
The third set was more of Nadal who jumped out to a 4-2 lead and the inevitable was near. Federer, though, began a furious rally that ended with him winning five of the last six games to take the set.
Then as the tension grew Federer quickly had 40-0 on Nadal’s serve in first game of the fourth set. Nadal, though, composed himself and brushed off the break chances with some good serving and fine play. From there, he simply wore Federer down taking the match when a Roger forehand sailed long.
Again, not the greatest performance from Nadal but a very strong showing from Federer who many of us had written off.
“Today was a very good match,” said Federer. “Overall obviously I’m very happy about the tournament. Obviously you should be disappointed after losing in a Grand Slam final. Obviously I feel that a little bit today. He’s a great champion on clay especially, and I am happy with my tournament.”
Had Roger won that first set who knows what would have happened. But credit to Nadal for fighting through it and not giving in to the moment in that fourth set.
“When I went into the rain delay, I was down basically two sets almost,” said Federer. “I almost saved myself, but I’m very competitive, and I thought he was getting tired throughout the third set and also in the fourth. It was unfortunate I couldn’t take my chances early on in the fourth. Rafa played well and deserved the win today.
As calm as ever, Rafa went about his business in that final set and we saw what happened. With the momentum 0-40 hole and the crowd on Federer’s side, what did Rafa do? He won that fourth set 6-1! That’s how the champions rise up to the occasion.
And with all the talk of Djokovic and his dominance, let’s not forget that Nadal has now won four of the last five Grand Slam tournaments which is a heck of a feat. And with 10 Slams in his pocket he’s within striking distance of Pete Sampras’s 14.
Of course today’s win also tied him with the great Bjorn Borg for most Roland Garros titles at six.
“For me it’s something very special equal the six titles of Bjorn,” Nadal said. “But for me, the most important thing is win Roland Garros, no? It’s really honor to have this record with him. I going to keep working to be here next year and to try to play well another time. But today is a day to enjoy this title, because is very difficult win this title. Six times are a lot. So seriously, it’s a real honor, the comparison with Bjorn.”
In their great rivalry now, Nadal leads Federer 17-8, 12-2 on clay and 6-2 in Grand Slam finals. He’s also beaten Federer in nine of their last 11 meetings! But Federer, at least, has managed a set in the last two.
And for Federer, there are a few more positives to take. First he showed that he can still play well, even on clay. He also may get some of the cred back in the locker room, and he won’t have to answer questions of “what’s wrong” for at least a few more weeks.
Remember, Nadal only lost three sets at the French the last two years, two of which were fluky breakers to John Isner. The other was to Federer today.
With his performance I think Roger is the second favorite behind Nadal for Wimbledon. After his poor run last year, I think we’ll see Federer back on the that final weekend at the All England Club next month.
And Federer of course beat Djokovic who has to be a little worried about where his game is at. The Serb will have a full two weeks off to prepare for Wimbledon where, like the French, he’s never reached the final.
Despite two losses to Djokovic, the clay season ends with the Nadal on top for the sixth time in the last seven years. Ordered restored and Vamos!
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