Saturday, January 20, 2018

Nadal wins eighth French Open title

PARIS — David Ferrer did not look overwhelmed by the occasion in his first Grand Slam singles final, only overwhelmed by the opponent.

"Nadal, always Nadal," Ferrer said before Sunday's match.

So it must seem at the French Open, the world's most prestigious claycourt tournament.

Rafael Nadal already had set a men's record last year by winning his seventh singles title at Roland Garros. Sunday, he created even more space between himself and Bjorn Borg by winning his eighth, which also gives him the most men's wins at one Grand Slam. Nadal did it by gathering strength on a dreary, drizzly afternoon and beating Ferrer, his friend and Spanish compatriot, 6-3, 6-2, 6-3.

"Eight times here is a lot," Nadal said.

In terms of the forehands and backhands, it was one of the more straightforward of Nadal's Paris finals. The only time he looked genuinely rattled was when he dropped his serve late in the second set after a bare-chested protester wearing a white mask and carrying a flare managed to leap a barrier and reach the court.

"I felt a little bit scared at the first moment," Nadal said, "because I didn't see what's going on."

Nadal got broken in that game, then broke back right away to take the second set.

But the path to this suspense-free Sunday had more than its customary share of uncertainty. There were the left knee problems that kept Nadal off the tour for seven months until February. There was the brilliance of Novak Djokovic, the world's No. 1 player, who beat Nadal on clay in Monte Carlo in April and came within a few points of knocking him out of this tournament in the semifinals Friday.

"I never like to compare years, but it's true that this year means something very special for me," Nadal said. "Five months ago, nobody of my team dreamed about one comeback like this because we thought that (was) going to be impossible. But here we are today, and that's really fantastic and incredible."

Ferrer, seeded No. 4, had not lost a set on his way to the final, but despite all his hustle and exquisite timing close to the baseline, he could not come close to winning a set against Nadal, who has won 20 of their 24 matches.

Under a leaden sky that eventually released a steady shower from the second set on, Ferrer felt nerves at the outset, he acknowledged. But after the players traded early breaks, Ferrer held for a 3-2 lead.

That's when Nadal took over, winning seven games in a row and 12 of 14.

Ferrer said the wet court hurt him more than Nadal.

"To beat Rafael in claycourt, I need to play more aggressive," Ferrer said. "But when the court is slower, it's very difficult. He has more power than me with his shots, and it's very difficult for me to beat him.

"Rafael, I think he has the best mentality I ever seen in my career. He has everything, no?"

A week past his 27th birthday, Nadal now owns 12 major trophies in all to eclipse Borg and Rod Laver, and equal Roy Emerson for third most in history. Nadal trails Roger Federer's 17 and Pete Sampras' 14.

"Winning 17 Grand Slam titles, that's miles away," Nadal said. "I'm not even thinking about it."

. Fast facts

Nadal by the numbers

8 French Open titles, most men's titles at one Grand Slam

12 Major championships, moving him into a third-place tie with Roy Emerson on the all-time men's list (Roger Federer 17, Pete Sampras 14)

9 Consecutive calendar years in which he has won a major title, bettering by one Bjorn Borg (1974-81), Sampras (1993-2000) and Federer (2003-10)

59-1 Career record at French Open, best record for any player at a Grand Slam.

43-2 Record in 2013

7 Titles in 2013, in nine title-match appearances

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