Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Nadal Wins Record 7th French Open Title

"I won four titles already this year in my favorite court. That’s clay,” Nadal said, as if his audience needed a reminder. “I don’t have that chance to play in my favorite court the rest of the season. That’s the calendar."

PARIS - Rain or shine, clay or mud, Sunday or Monday, Rafael Nadal rules Roland Garros.

The man they call "Rafa" won his record seventh French Open title Monday, returning a day after getting rained out to put the finishing touches on a 6-4, 6-3, 2-6, 7-5 victory over Novak Djokovic. He denied Djokovic in his own run at history - the quest for the "Novak Slam."

The match ended on Djokovic's double-fault, a fittingly awkward conclusion to an emotion-packed final that had plenty of stops and starts, including a brief delay during the fourth set Monday while - what else? - a rain shower passed over the stadium.

It was a 3 hour, 50 minute match spread over two days filled with momentum swings, outbursts, testy exchanges with the officials and then, finally, a familiar closing act: Nadal, the second-seeded Spaniard, down on his knees, celebrating a title at a place that feels like home.

"I suffered," Nadal said, "but I enjoyed."

Wrapping up the match a few minutes after the match's last rain shower stopped, Nadal broke the record he shared with Bjorn Borg, improved to 52-1 at the French Open and beat the man who had defeated him in the last three Grand Slam finals.

"I don't know if I am the best or not," Nadal said. "I am not the right one to say that. The only thing is, I have probably one of the best results ever, probably in this kind of surface, and for me [that] is great."

After serving his fourth double-fault of the match, the top-seeded Djokovic dropped his head, slumped his shoulders and walked slowly toward the net - an emotional two-day adventure complete, and not with the result he wanted.

He was trying to become the first man since Rod Laver, 43 years ago, to win four straight major titles. He came up short just as Roger Federer twice did in seeking four in a row - his pursuit also halted by Nadal at Roland Garros in 2006 and 2007.

Nadal won his 11th overall Grand Slam title, tying him with Borg and Laver for fourth among the all-time leaders.

Last year, Nadal won at Roland Garros, fell to the clay, held the trophy and headed off into the rest of the season. He did not win another tournament. It’s not that he played poorly, even if there were some rough patches in Montreal, Cincinnati and Shanghai. But Nadal still made the final at Wimbledon and at the United States Open, where he lost to Djokovic both times.

The questions now, since Nadal’s triumph at the French is the closest thing in tennis to a given, is whether he is playing at a level higher than in 2011 and whether that will carry over as the season chugs along. Nadal maintained he is playing better than he did last season, even on his favorite surface.

His rivalry with Djokovic should be central to the narrative of the rest of the season, although Federer remains a threat. Nadal has played in the last five Grand Slam finals, but lost three of them to Djokovic and won only at the French, albeit twice.

“You have to find your moments,” Nadal said. “It’s not possible to be perfect every time. I going to try to keep having chances to win, produce chances to win. I produced a lot of chances to win last year, but I lost almost every one.”

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