Djokovic bows to King Rafa VII
Nadal breaks Borg’s French Open record with seventh Roland Garros win
Someone was going to end up with their name in the history books and in the end it was Rafael Nadal. The Mallorcan star on Monday consolidated his status as the undisputed king of the Roland Garros clay by becoming the first man to lift the trophy seven times, surpassing Björn Borg’s record of six French Open Simple Messieurs titles.
The Spaniard weathered the overnight delay caused by the Paris rain to take the fourth set and a 6-4, 6-3, 2-6, 7-5 victory over Novak Djokovic, the man who had defeated him in the previous three Grand Slam finals. Djokovic was himself competing to become the first man since Rod Laver in 1969 to hold all four major titles at the same time.
After play resumed on Monday, Nadal immediately broke back to level the fourth at 2-2, the next games all going with serve to take him to a 6-5 lead. With Djokovic serving to stay in the match, the Spaniard hit a forehand winner at 30-30 for his first championship point. The Serbian duly served a double fault to send his rival crashing to the ground in his customary dusty celebration.
“For me it is a real honor,” Nadal said after the match. “The comparison with the great Björn is fantastic. He’s always been very nice to me, so I have to say thanks.”
Nadal, who had not lost a set on his way to the final, started the stronger on Sunday afternoon, earning a double break to go 0-3 up, only to cede the advantage by dropping his next two service games. However, the Serbian surrendered his own serve once more in the following game with a first ill-timed double fault of the match and the world number two eventually closed out the set 6-4. Perhaps less mentally strong than during his sensational run of victories in 2011, Djokovic double-faulted again in the first game of the second to immediately hand Nadal a break, although he broke back in the fourth to draw level at 2-2.
The Spaniard eventually pocketed another Djokovic service game to go 4-3 and held his own service before the persistent drizzle finally resulted in a 34-minute delay.
Upon his return, Nadal, who had beaten Djokovic on clay at the Monte-Carlo and Rome Masters this year, broke again with a cross-court backhand to take the set 6-3 and immediately took the Serbian’s first service game of set three for a 2-0 lead, seemingly on his way to an easier-than-expected victory over his nemesis of the past 12 months.
But, suddenly, Djokovic found his consistency. Playing more aggressively and committing fewer unforced errors, the world number one proceeded to reel off the next eight games to take the third set 6-2 and move two games up at the start of the fourth. It was the first time Nadal, who has only lost once in eight years of French Open visits — to Sweden’s Robin Söderling in the fourth round in 2009 — had dropped a set at Roland Garros since his first-round match against big-serving American John Isner in 2011.
He finally put a stop to the rout by holding his serve in game three before the heavens opened and play was suspended at 1-2 — eventually until 1pm on Monday.
Upon their return to Court Philippe Chatrier for a second day of play, it was the Serbian looking the more vulnerable on his serve and the Mallorcan who found himself back in the driving seat, cruising to his 11th Grand Slam victory.
“This tournament is probably the most special in the world and having this trophy with me I am really emotional,” Nadal said during the on-court presentation of the cup. “It is probably one of the most special moments in my career.”
Djokovic graciously offered his congratulations to his rival. “I am privileged to be in this position for the first time,” he said of his first French open final. “Rafa was a better player and I hope to come back next year and play even better.” Only Roger Federer with 16, Pete Sampras with 14 and Roy Emerson with 12 have won more major titles than Nadal and, still just 26, it’s more than likely he’ll be soon catching up with some of them.