Thursday, June 21, 2018
Sports

Rafael Nadal wins 9th French Open

PARIS — Trying to beat Rafael Nadal at the French Open is without a doubt the toughest task in tennis.

It might be among the greatest challenges in sports.

It's about the pressure Nadal applies, from set to set, game to game, point to point, shot to shot. That bullwhip of a high-bouncing, topspin lefty forehand. Those quick-reflex returns that help him break an opponent's serve. And his will.

Doing what he does so well on the red clay of Roland Garros, a surface and site he dominates so completely, the No. 1-seeded Nadal wore down No. 2 Novak Djokovic 3-6, 7-5, 6-2, 6-4 in a muggy final Sunday to win his ninth French Open championship and fifth in a row, both records.

"For me," Nadal said, "playing here in Roland Garros is just unforgettable, forever."

It is also his 14th Grand Slam title overall, tying the 28-year-old Spaniard with Pete Sampras for second most by a man, behind Roger Federer's 17.

No other man has won more than seven titles at any of tennis' four majors.

"It's not impossible, but it's very, very difficult to stay with 'Rafa' in this court, throughout the whole match, on the highest level of performance," said Djokovic, who was broken in the final game of each set, including with an anticlimactic double fault on match point.

Nadal ensured that he, not Djokovic, will be ranked No. 1 today (it will be his 139th week at No. 1). In the process, Nadal once again prevented six-time major champion Djokovic from completing a career Grand Slam.

"He deserves to win this tournament," Nadal said. "I am sure he will do it in the future."

Djokovic had won their four most recent matches, including on clay in the best-of-three-set final at Rome last month. Beating Nadal in best-of-five is another matter. He is 90-1 over his career in best-of-five-set matches on clay.

Nadal also topped Djokovic in the 2012 final and the 2013 semifinals. In all, Nadal leads Djokovic 6-0 at the French Open, 9-3 at major tournaments, and 23-19 in total. No other pair of men has played each other as often.

The defeat in Rome was one of three this season on clay for Nadal, raising questions about whether he would be unbeatable at Roland Garros this time. There also was the matter of his troublesome back, which flared up during a loss to Stan Wawrinka in the Australian Open final and slowed his serve at times during the French Open.

"I'm so very happy," Nadal said Sunday. "But I didn't really look at things this way when I arrived here at Roland Garros."

For 31/2 hours, when the sky was crystal clear and the temperature touched 80 degrees, Djokovic gave everything he had, even vomiting on the court. "I played at the maximum of my power, my strength, and my capability," the 27-year-old Serb said, "but Rafa was the best player."

Nadal was presented with the trophy by six-time French winner Bjorn Borg.

"It was an emotional victory after what happened in Australia," said Nadal, who had 44 winners and broke Djokovic six times. "The most important thing (Sunday) is I won the most important tournament of the world on clay, probably the most important tournament of the year for me."

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