Rafael Nadal beat David Ferrer in the French Open final, overcoming poor weather and disruptions by protesters today to become the first man to win the same tennis Grand Slam eight times.
Nadal fell onto his back and covered his face with his hands after defeating his friend and fellow Spaniard 6-3, 6-2, 6-3 on a cold, rainy day on the main Court Philippe Chatrier at Roland Garros in Paris.
“This year is something very special for me,” Nadal, who missed the U.S. Open and the Olympics last year because of a knee injury, told reporters. Winning after his recovery had made the title run “very emotional,” he said.
Nadal’s 12th Grand Slam championship comes only four months after he returned to the men’s tour following a long injury break. After a shock second-round loss at Wimbledon, the 27-year-old left-hander was sidelined with a partially torn patella tendon and inflammation in his left knee that forced him to miss the London Olympics, U.S. Open and Australian Open.
Today’s second set was interrupted twice by protesters opposed to France’s legalization of same-sex marriage. The players stopped when people seated high in the stands started chanting after holding up a banner saying in English “Help. France tramples on children’s rights.”
Shortly afterwards, a man with a mask and holding a flare attempted to get on court and was tackled by security before he could reach Nadal. At the same time, there were protests by the Court Suzanne Lenglen, where protesters held a banner calling for the resignation of French President Francois Hollande.
Ten people were arrested, French Open tournament director Gilbert Ysern said in an interview in the players’ lounge after the final. He went on to praise security staff for “controlling the situation,” and said the event would not be reviewing its security procedures.
The men’s final had also been disrupted in 2009, when a man managed to get on court and tried to put a hat on Roger Federer’s head.
No other man has claimed eight singles titles at the same Grand Slam. Only seven men have won seven major championships at one event. These include Federer and Pete Sampras at Wimbledon in the last two decades, Bill Tilden at what was then called the U.S. Championships in the 1920s and William Renshaw at Wimbledon in the 1880s. Before today, Nadal and Chris Evert had been the only players to hold seven Roland Garros championships.
“I never dreamt about his kind of thing,” Nadal said. It’s been “a lot of work since I was a kid.”
Watched from the presidential box by Olympic sprint champion Usain Bolt -- who was handed a blanket shortly before the start of play -- Ferrer held to love in the opening game. After breaking for a 2-1 lead on three errors by Ferrer, Nadal then dropped his own serve as he dumped a backhand in the net following a long baseline rally. Putting Ferrer under pressure with his forehand, Nadal broke for the second time to go up 4-3. Having been handed two set points with a double fault, Nadal took the first set 6-3 on Ferrer’s 12th unforced error.
Nadal took the first three games of the second set as his forehand found its range. As rain started to fall and umbrellas went up, the crowd shouted “Ole” after Nadal won a point in the fourth game with a backhand drop shot.
Serving at 3-1, Nadal fended off four breakpoints, one with a backhand winner after the longest rally of the match. The match was briefly stopped at 4-1 by the protesters, with Ferrer losing his serve.
The man wearing holding the flare was grabbed by security guards as he tried to get onto the court right behind Nadal’s bench as the Spaniard was about to serve for the second set at 5-1. Nadal, who jumped away as guards took hold of the man, seemed shaken as he promptly lost his serve. Ferrer then dropped his serve and the set on three double faults in a row.
“I felt a little bit scared,” Nadal said. “One of these things that nobody can prevent.”
In the third set, Nadal held in the opening game before both dropped serve again. Struggling to regain his composure, Ferrer handed Nadal another break for 5-3. Serving for the title, Nadal won his 12th major with a forehand, his 35th winner of the match. Ferrer had 22 winners. Nadal made 25 unforced errors, 10 fewer than his Davis Cup teammate.
Ferrer Goes to No. 4
The 31-year-old Ferrer has now lost 20 of 24 matches against Nadal. He did beat him on clay once, in their first match in Stuttgart in 2004. Ferrer, who had reached the final without dropping a set, will climb one spot in the ATP World Tour rankings tomorrow to No. 4 while Nadal drops one place to No. 5.
“I enjoy a lot these two weeks,” said Ferrer. “I will try to do my best to have another chance to win a Grand Slam. I know it’s going to be difficult, but I will fight to be here in another final again.”