The man they call “Rafa” won his record seventh French Open title Monday, returning a day after getting rained out to put the finishing touches on a 6-4, 6-3, 2-6, 7-5 victory over Novak Djokovic. He denied Djokovic in his own run at history—the quest for the “Novak Slam.”
The match ended on a Djokovic double-fault, a fittingly awkward conclusion to a final that had plenty of stops and starts, including a brief delay during the fourth set Monday while—what else? -- a rain shower passed over the stadium.
They waited it out and Nadal wound up as he has for seven of the past eight years: Down on the ground, celebrating a title at a place that feels like home. He broke the record he shared with Bjorn Borg, improved to 52-1 at the French Open and beat the man who had defeated him in the last three Grand Slam finals.
“This tournament is, for me, the most special tournament of the world,” Nadal said.
After serving his fourth double-fault of the match, the top-seeded Djokovic dropped his head and slumped his shoulders, an emotional two-day adventure complete, and not with the result he wanted.
He was trying to become the first man in 43 years to win four straight major titles. He came up short and joined Roger Federer, who twice came up one match short of four in a row—his pursuit also halted by Nadal at Roland Garros in 2006 and 2007.
Nadal won his 11th overall Grand Slam title, tying him with Borg and Rod Laver on the all-time list.
“It was a very difficult match against the best player in the world,” Nadal said. “I lost three Grand Slam finals—Wimbledon, the U.S. Open last year, and the Australian Open this year. I'm very happy, very emotional.”
A match with so much of tennis history riding on it proved awkward and frustrating for both players.
Djokovic was throwing rackets around early in the match, then Nadal was complaining bitterly as the rain picked up late Sunday, the tennis balls became heavy and officials refused to stop the match.
Djokovic rolled through the third set as the rain turned the heavy red clay into more of a muddy paste. He had all the momentum when play was halted.
When they came back Monday under cloudy skies, the surface and the tennis balls had dried out and Nadal looked more like he usually does—sliding into his stops, spinning his shots, moving Djokovic around the court, always getting one more ball back.
“I'm not going back, saying it's your fault and your fault because I lost,” Djokovic said. “It's unfortunate because I was playing better, feeling better on the court in the third set yesterday. Today, he started strong, I started slower. I was a little bit unfortunate in that first game and things turned around.”
On the restart, Nadal broke serve right away to tie the set at 2-2 and the frustrated Djokovic was back—slamming himself in the head with his racket after missing an easy forehand that gave Nadal the break point.
It was one of 15 unforced errors in the set for Djokovic, who went back to trying to end points early and blunt the huge advantage Nadal has sliding around on clay. When the surface was muddy, the evening before in the third set, Djokovic only made eight unforced errors.
Play was nearly stopped with Nadal ahead 5-4 in the fourth set, but a rainshower passed and they went back out. Both men held serve and Djokovic needed to hold once more trailing 6-5. Nadal hit a big forehand winner to set up match point and Djokovic, who had saved four of those in a quarterfinal win over Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, had no more magic. He double-faulted and fell to 0-4 against Nadal at the French Open.