It was a bright, sunny day in Paris, when Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic took the court for the French Open final, one that had a lot on the line for both players, including the number one spot of the ATP World Tour rankings.
In search of the lone Grand Slam title missing to his collection, Djokovic started all guns blazing, fully focused and confident, against a Nadal who made several errors at key moments of games, thus allowing the Serbian to get away with the first set, 6-3.
The second set started in the same fashion, until Djokovic was serving a 2-3. Saving a break point on an umpire overrule, he was broken a couple of points later. If he broke right back, it did not keep the Spaniard from breaking as Djokovic was intending to force a second-set tiebreak, thus levelling the match at a set apiece, 3-6, 7-5.
This first break, then the second, had a dual effect: it broke Djokovic’s confidence and woke up “the Beast”.
And once Nadal is awake, there is about no turning back.
His energy extinct, his frustration level rising, Novak Djokovic quickly surrendered the third set, 6-2.
The fourth set started with Djokovic being sick, but trying hard to fight. However, there was no stopping the train from Mallorca, who broke in the sixth game of the set.
Down and out, Novak Djokovic? Not yet. The World number 2 broke straight back, but was only delaying the inevitable. With Djokovic serving to stay in the match, Nadal broke on a double fault from his rival to complete a 3-6, 7-5, 6-2, 6-4 victory, crowning in style his ninth Roland Garros championship but, most importantly, tying Pete Sampras’s 14 Grand Slam titles, only three away from Roger Federer’s record.
A difficult defeat, an exhilarating triumph
For Novak Djokovic, this defeat was a difficult one to digest.
“It was a very emotional day for me and my team”, said the Serbian. “I tried with all my strength and all my capabilities, but Rafa was just too strong. Congratulations to Rafa and his team. It’s really incredible to win this tournament nine times. Congratulations, Rafa!”
Nadal was quick to respond to his vanquished rival: “Novak, I’m sorry for today but for me it’s always a challenger to play you, probably the biggest challenge. I’m sure you’ll win the title here one day.”
But what came out most was his joy and exhilaration: “For me, today is incredibly. To have this ninth trophy here with me, it really means a lot. It’s very special.”
The King of Clay, without a doubt
There is still only one man who has defeated the King of Clay in a best-of-five match on that surface: Robin Söderling. From the look of things, it will remain so for a long, long time.
Congratulations to Rafael Nadal!
(Photos: Getty Images)