(June 11, 2012)—Forty-nine minutes was all Rafael Nadal needed on Monday to secure his seventh French Open title over Novak Djokovic, 6-4, 6-3, 2-6, 7-5. The simple scoreline gives no indication of the complexity of Nadal’s struggle in this final, which lasted two days and featured an inspired comeback attempt from the world No. 1.
|By Chris Oddo
|Photo Credit: AFP/Patrick Kovarik
But like Sunday, when Nadal stormed to take control of the match from the beginning, then again after a 34-minute rain delay just prior to the conclusion of the second set, Nadal was the more prepared player when play resumed beneath threatening skies in Paris on Monday.
Nadal leveled the match just six points into play as he sent a backhand passing shot past Djokovic, then he proceeded to win 12 of his first 13 points on serve to wrestle all momentum from the Serb down the stretch.
Though he looked to be headed for a short day at the office, a resourceful Djokovic stayed with his bid to push things to a fifth set until late.
But the final game would prove fatal for Djokovic. Nadal played a dominating point at 30-all, slashing a winner after a long rally to earn his first championship point, and Djokovic ended all hopes for another match point miracle when he double-faulted to hand Nadal the victory.
It was the third time that one of his double faults had handed Nadal a break in the match.
“I am disappointed that I lost of course,” said Djokovic. “I thought I could get this match into the fifth set.”
Nadal’s seventh French Open title moves him beyond Bjorn and into the all-time lead, while the 26-year-old’s eleventh Grand Slam title makes him the third-youngest player in history to have reached that total.
“For me the comparison with the great Borg is fantastic,” Nadal said afterwards. “I had the honor to meet him a few times, I just have to say thanks.”
Rarely have two competing players had so much in stake in a single match. In addition to Nadal’s quest to become the most decorated clay-court player of all-time, Djokovic was bidding to become the first player to hold all four Grand Slams in 43 years.
Collectively, they are setting a precedent as well. The pair now own the Open Era record for most consecutive finals played with four.
In the end, Nadal’s superiority in the subtle art of managing his emotions over the course of this two-day affair gave him the edge.
Each time the pair resumed play, Nadal raced ahead, forcing Djokovic to try to mount a last-ditch effort to catch him. It was a recipe that had worked for Djokovic throughout the week as he engineered stunning comebacks to advance to the final, but against Nadal, it was a recipe for heartbreak.
“I could have easily gone out in the fourth-round or the quarterfinals,” said Djokovic afterwards. “Then I got to the point where I played the best player in the world on this surface. It’s incredible what he’s achieving in his career, but I gave it all.”
Nadal, who now owns a 52-1 record at the French Open and the best clay-court winning percentage of all-time, has now denied a player the chance for a fourth straight Grand Slam title three times at Roland Garros. He stopped Federer in 2006 and 2007, when the Swiss legend was at the top of his game.
Now that he’s stopped Djokovic and smashed Borg’s record, it might be safe to say that the best player to ever play the game is Rafael Nadal playing the game on clay.
“For me the most important thing is this tournament,” said Nadal. “For me to be back here in this Centre Court playing another final and having this trophy with me is something unforgettable. I am really, really emotional and it’s probably one of the more special moments of my career.”