Rafael Nadal held his head in his hands and cried after a double fault ended Novak Djokovic’s run in major tennis tournaments and handed the Spaniard a record seventh men’s French Open title.
The 26-year-old Nadal, who lost the previous three Grand Slam finals to Djokovic, won 6-4, 6-3, 2-6, 7-5 in a match that was delayed for rain twice and played over two days in Paris.
Nadal climbed into his box, embracing friends and family members including his uncle and long-time coach, Toni Nadal, after Djokovic’s fourth double fault ended the match.
“It’s a really emotional day, winning the seventh title is very important,” Nadal said in a news conference. Earlier, after being given the Coupe des Mousquetaires by former champion Mats Wilander of Sweden on the first Monday final since 1973, he’d told the crowd: “To have this trophy with me is something unforgettable.”
Both players fought with their emotions as the weather interrupted play yesterday. In the first hour, Djokovic threw his racket on the clay and later used it to smash his bench to pieces. After the first rain delay in the third set, Nadal angrily pleaded with the chair umpire to stop the match as conditions worsened and his performance deteriorated.
“The ball was getting heavier than ever, and the bounces started to be bad in the last half hour” yesterday, Nadal said. “I was very nervous before the match today.”
Nadal has now won 11 major singles titles, tying him with Sweden’s Bjorn Borg and Australia’s Rod Laver. Only Roger Federer of Switzerland (16), Pete Sampras of the U.S. (14) and Roy Emerson of Australia (12) have won more. It was Nadal’s first major championship since he tied Borg with six titles in Paris last year.
“This has been a strange final with delays and conditions and two days’ length of match,” Djokovic, a right-hander from Serbia, told reporters. “Unfortunately there has been a rain delay yesterday when I started to feel really good on the court. But I don’t want to find an excuse in that, because the first rain delay maybe helped me a little bit; the second helped him. So that’s the way it goes, and the better player won today.”
Djokovic, who is ranked No. 1, beat the left-hander at Wimbledon, the U.S. Open and the Australian Open, and would have been the first man to hold all four majors since Laver swept the titles in 1969. Laver, who also all four majors in 1962, and American Don Budge in 1938 are the only men to win four in a row in one calendar year. Serena Williams held four majors at the same time by winning in Melbourne in 2003.
Djokovic said he hadn’t felt any extra pressure coming into Roland Garros with a shot at making history.
“I was excited about this opportunity,” he said today. “Nothing more than that, really.”
Play restarted today shortly after 1 p.m., with Nadal down a break in the fourth set. He broke Djokovic in the first game after the resumption with a backhand and held serve at love, able to place spin on his shots again on the drier court. The pair then stayed on serve as rain showers mixed with sunny spells. With Djokovic serving to keep his run of Grand Slam titles alive at 5-6, Nadal got to match point as he drilled three forehands in a row at the Serb. Djokovic dropped his head as he lost his serve and the match on a double fault, and Nadal sank to the clay.
At the start of the match yesterday, Nadal controlled play for the first hour as less than half of Djokovic’s first serves landed inside the service box. This allowed the Spaniard to dictate the rallies off his opponent’s second serve with his forehand.
Unable to crack Nadal’s defense from the baseline, Djokovic smashed a hole in his bench with a loud thud after losing serve to go 4-3 down in the second set. After he was given a warning by chair umpire Damien Dumusois, play was suspended because of rain for 34 minutes, with Nadal leading 5-3 in the second set.
During the break, Djokovic slammed the door to the trainers’ room shut while Nadal used the extra time to have his racket re-strung.
Things didn’t immediately improve for Djokovic after the rain delay, during which his on-court green bench was replaced with a new one. Nadal took a two-set lead with a sliding backhand passing shot and also won the first two games of the third set.
Djokovic then turned the match around as the rain intensified. With three-quarters of his first serves now landing in, Djokovic stood on the baseline thumping ground strokes as he rattled off six games in a row to win his first set against Nadal at Roland Garros.
The heavier conditions affected Nadal’s head and play, as it became increasingly difficult to put his customary spin on the soggy balls.
At the start of the fourth set, Nadal lost a 45-stroke rally with a backhand into the net. He finally held serve in the third game, ending a run of eight games for Djokovic. With Djokovic leading 2-1 in the fourth set, play was stopped for the day. As he left the court, Nadal spoke angrily to tournament referee Stefan Fransson, telling the Swede: “Now we have to stop, always the same with you.”
The second-seeded Spaniard ended a seven-match losing streak against Djokovic on clay courts in Monte Carlo and Rome. He’s won 35 clay-court titles, the most of anyone currently playing on the ATP World Tour. Borg won 30 tournaments on the surface before he retired at the age 26 in 1983.
Nadal reached the finals in Paris having dropped only 35 games, the fewest since Borg lost 31 games in the first six matches in 1980.
Djokovic’s route to the final wasn’t as straightforward. He came back from two sets down in the fourth round against Italy’s Andreas Seppi and saved four match points in the quarterfinals against France’s Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. He beat Federer in the semifinals.
Against Nadal, he made 53 unforced errors and dropped his serve three times on a double fault. Nadal had 29 errors and 34 winners, five less than Djokovic.
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