Paris: Rafael Nadal overcame a slow start against Novak Djokovic to win a record-extending ninth French Open title.
The top-seeded Spaniard beat the No. 2 seed from Serbia 3-6, 7-5, 6-2, 6-4 on the main Court Philippe Chatrier at Roland Garros in Paris.
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Rafael Nadal wins French Open
A physically-drained Nadal wins the French Open for a record ninth time, defeating rival Novak Djokovic in four sets Sunday.
Nadal celebrated and then embraced his long-time coach and uncle, Toni Nadal, after Djokovic double-faulted on match point.
The win, which extends his win-loss record at the French Open to 66-1, guarantees Nadal the top ranking in men's tennis. Djokovic would have knocked him from the post if he'd won his first French Open championship.
The win broke more records for Nadal, too. He's the first man in tennis history to win five consecutive Roland Garros titles, and is now tied with Pete Sampras with 14 major championships.
The 28-year-old left-hander has dominated the French Open since he won the title in his first appearance in 2005. His only loss came in 2009, when he struggled with a knee injury and lost in the fourth round to hard-hitting Swede Robin Soderling.
Nadal had come to Roland Garros with concerns about his performance and confidence after he'd had his worst warm-up on European red clay in a decade. Instead of his usual two or three tournament victories, he'd only won one tournament ahead of Paris. He'd also lost to players he normally brushes aside on red clay, such as fellow Spaniards David Ferrer and Nicolas Almagro.
Even though Nadal said he'd been forced to take some pace off his serve in the first week because of back pain, he'd approached his best form at the end of the tournament, granting Wimbledon champion Andy Murray only six games in the semifinals.
A slow start in front of tennis royalty
Watched by former champion Bjorn Borg from the presidential box, Nadal had a slow start. Exploiting the space Nadal tends to leave in his forehand corner as he runs around his backhand, Djokovic got the first break of the match in the eighth game. Serving for the first set, Djokovic saved two break points on two mis-hit forehands. An inside-out forehand gave Djokovic the first set.
In the second set, Nadal got to his first break point of the match as he surprised Djokovic with a slice backhand. It looked like the Spaniard had got the break with a backhand that seemed to have touched the line, only for the umpire to call the shot out. Nadal stayed calm, and converted his second break point as he drilled a forehand deep inside Djokovic's forehand corner. Serving at 4-2, Nadal played a sloppy service game, double-faulting at 30-all and losing the game on a forehand error.
Serving to stay in the set at 6-5, Djokovic's inside-out forehand that had so bothered Nadal sailed wide to gift his opponent two set points. Nadal screamed 'Vamos' and as he evened the match with a forehand winner.
Struggling in the French heat
The match turned in the third set as Djokovic's form dipped. The Serb let his head hang when he got broken on a backhand volley error off a high defensive return. Djokovic, who had also struggled in the heat during his semifinal, nearly slumped off his chair when he sat down after going down 3-0.
After squandering a break point at 3-1 down with a backhand error, Djokovic slammed his racket on the clay following another mistake in the seventh game. Trailing 4-2, Djokovic failed to convert two more break points and looked at his box in disbelief when he lost the game on a netted backhand in front of an almost open court. Nadal took a two sets to one lead as Djokovic struck a forehand long, his 14th error of the set.
In the fourth set, Djokovic got sick on the court as the match entered its fourth hour. As clouds started to roll in, Nadal broke for a 4-2 lead on two backhand errors. Serving for 5-2, Nadal let Djokovic back in the match as he missed a smash and got broken on a cross-court backhand.
Serving to stay in the championships, Djokovic handed Nadal a match point with a forehand error and lost the match as he double-faulted after a spectator shouted out during his ball toss on his second serve. He held his thumbs up as he walked to the net to shake hands with Nadal.
89-1 record on clay over five set
The best clay-courter of his generation with 45 titles, Nadal now has a win-loss record in best-of-five matches on the slow surface of 89-1.
It was the 42nd time Nadal and Djokovic had played – the most in the Open era on the men's tour – and the seventh time in a Grand Slam final. Before today, Djokovic had won their last four meetings, including in the finals of Rome the week before Roland Garros.
Djokovic, a four-time Australian Open champion who has also won Wimbledon and the US Open, had made Roland Garros his main goal of the season after adding former Wimbledon champion Boris Becker to his coaching team at the start of the year. Djokovic, 27, has now been stopped by Nadal at Roland Garros six times, including in the finals two years ago and in last year's semifinals.