Nadal Captures 5th French Open Title, Reclaims No. 1

Rafael Nadal defeated Robin Soderling in straight sets to win his fifth French Open title and reclaim the top spot in men’s tennis from Roger Federer.

The second-seeded Spaniard beat the Swede 6-4, 6-2, 6-4 at Roland Garros, moving one French Open crown from tying Bjorn Borg’s record of six men’s championships.

“It was very emotional,” Nadal said in a televised courtside interview after falling onto the red clay court in front of Queen Sofia of Spain and then crying into his towel. “I played at a very high level, I am very happy.”

The 24-year-old Nadal will reclaim the No. 1 ranking on the ATP World Tour tomorrow, preventing Federer for now from surpassing Pete Sampras’s record of 286 weeks at the top. Federer has been No. 1 for 285 weeks.

“I want to congratulate Rafa,” Soderling said at the prize ceremony. “It’s really impressive. If you continue to play like this, you will win many more.”

Nadal last held the top spot on June 22, 2009. Federer is likely to answer questions about losing his No. 1 ranking during a news conference at the grass-court tournament in Halle, Germany, that starts tomorrow, his agent Tony Godsick of IMG said in an e-mail today.

“It was very difficult to play against Robin,” Nadal said in a news conference a few hours after his win. “He’s a great player. But at the same time, very difficult to play against because he has a big serve, very flat shots from the baseline, very good shots from both sides, forehand and backhand, and it’s very difficult to control.”

Soderling, 25, who will move up one place to a career-best No. 6, was in the French Open final for the second straight year. He lost the championship match to Switzerland’s Federer in 2009.

Soderling is the only man to have beaten Nadal on the Parisian clay courts, ousting the Spaniard in the fourth round last year. The Swede also caused the biggest upset of the men’s tournament this year, ending Federer’s record run of 23 consecutive Grand Slam semifinal appearances in the quarterfinals.

Nadal earlier had played down suggestions that today’s final was a chance to avenge last year’s loss to Soderling.

No Revenge Motive

“I never believe in revenge,” Nadal said in a news conference after the semifinals, where he beat Austria’s Jurgen Melzer in straight sets. “I believe in trying my best at every moment. And if I lose, I lose, and congratulate Robin because he did better than me.”

Today’s triumph at Roland Garros is Nadal’s first win in a major since he reduced Federer to tears at last year’s Australian Open. After losing to Soderling at the French Open, Nadal skipped Wimbledon because of tendinitis in both knees and lost in the semifinals at the U.S. Open.

Watched from the presidential box by singer Beyonce, rap star Jay-Z and former French Open champion Mary Pierce, Nadal broke for a 3-2 lead in the first set with a backhand winner deep on the forehand side of the Swede. Soderling overcame three set points as he served at 5-3 down. The Spaniard converted his fourth set point for 6-4 as Soderling sent a forehand wide.

Gathering Clouds

With clouds gathering over Court Philippe Chatrier, the Swede failed to take his chances early on in the second set. Nadal held serve after overcoming four break points in the second game, and then broke Soderling’s serve at love for 3-2 thanks to two passing shots. The Spaniard forced a double break for 5-2 as Soderling made his 30th error of the match. Nadal took the second set 6-2 as Soderling hit a backhand wide.

Unlike last year’s French Open match against Soderling, Nadal dictated play in the third set as the Swede struggled to control the forehand that had helped knock defending champion Federer out of the tournament. Nadal broke serve in the first game as the Swede made yet another error on his forehand.

The crowd, which had supported the Swede at the start of the second set, grew quiet as Nadal raced to a 5-3 lead with a top spin forehand. Serving to stay in the match, Soderling held at love for 5-4. After the crowd did the wave, Nadal won his fifth title as the Swede hit a backhand into the net.

“It was tough,” Soderling said in a news conference. “Of course I can play better. I wish I could have done that, but he played great. So all credit to him.”

Nadal on Clay

Nadal took four weeks off after this year’s Australian Open, where he quit with a knee injury against Britain’s Andy Murray in the quarterfinals. His form improved when he returned to the European clay courts, winning all three tournaments he played leading up to the French Open.

Toni Nadal, the player’s uncle and long-time coach, said his nephew was close to his best form in an interview 10 days before the start of Roland Garros.

“He started 2008 playing more aggressively and in 2009, because of various problems, he didn’t manage to,” Toni Nadal, who has coached his nephew since he was 4, said at the Madrid Masters. “Now he’s got back to the same style of play as two years ago. He’s playing more forward, hitting more winners, coming to the net and changing the game better.”

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