(Sunday, June 8)
Paris, France (SportsNetwork.com) – Rafael Nadal captured his fifth straight French Open title with a four-set victory over Novak Djokovic on Sunday.
Nadal dropped the first set in the final, but bounced back and claimed a 3-6, 7-5, 6-2, 6-4 triumph for his ninth title in the last 10 years on the famed red clay at Roland Garros.
Djokovic, meanwhile, failed for the second time to complete a career Grand Slam. He needs only the title in the French capital, but lost to Nadal in the final for the second time in three years.
Nadal has never lost in six meetings with Djokovic at the French Open, beating the Serb for the third straight year. In addition to the 2012 final, Nadal came away with a thrilling five-set victory in the semifinals last year, finishing that match with a 9-7 fifth set.
Djokovic, though, had beaten Nadal in each of the last four matchups, including a three-set win on clay in the Rome final just a few weeks ago.
After winning the first set Sunday, it appeared Djokovic just might continue that streak. However, Nadal always seems to find another gear in Paris. He improved to 66-1 all-time at the French Open, the lone loss coming against Robin Soderling in the fourth round of the 2009 tournament, and he became the first to win five straight French titles.
Nadal captured his 14th career Grand Slam title, tying him with Pete Sampras for second all-time and trailing only Roger Federer’s 17. He improved to 23-19 against Djokovic, including 4-3 in Grand Slam finals.
“Playing against Novak is always a big challenge for me,” said Nadal in an on- court interview following the match. “I lost the last few times. Both of us, the last couple of years have been playing a very high level.”
Djokovic, still stuck on six career Grand Slam titles, was playing in his 11th final over the last 15 major championships. He could have overtaken Nadal for the No. 1 ranking with a victory on Sunday.
“He was a better player in the crucial moments,” said Djokovic. “Of course it’s disappointing for me, but life goes on. It’s not the first time or last time that I lost a match.”
The first set Sunday didn’t feature a deuce game until Djokovic served in the seventh, which he managed to win two straight points to take it. He then won three of the first four in the next game to set up the first two break points. Nadal saved both — the first with a forehand winner down the line and the second with a service winner.
Djokovic, though, countered with a forehand winner down the line on the next point to set up a third break-point chance. Nadal, this time, fired a forehand wide to give Djokovic the opportunity to serve for the first set.
Nadal answered with a pair of break-point chances in the very next game, but squandered both with forehand errors. Djokovic took advantage and blasted a backhand winner before sending Nadal running on the next point, which ended with another Nadal forehand that sailed long to secure the first set.
The second set was on serve until Nadal gained a break-point chance in the sixth game. He appeared to win it with a backhand on the line, but Djokovic questioned the call and the chair umpire reversed the line judge’s decision. Nadal picked up another break chance a few moments later with a forehand winner, and this time took advantage of a second serve with a blistering forehand that Djokovic could not return to make it 4-2.
Djokovic, though, picked up a pair of break points in the next game after a Nadal double fault and converted on the second chance when the Spaniard belted a running forehand long. He saved another break point in the next game, again on a Nadal error, and managed to hold.
Nadal held easily for 6-5 and broke serve with a forehand winner to square the match, then raced out to a 3-0 lead in the third set with a break of serve in the second game and a love service game in the third.
Djokovic had a chance to break at 3-1, but sent a backhand wide, then handed Nadal the set after blowing a 40-15 lead in the eighth game. A long forehand on break point gave Nadal a two-sets-to-one edge.
It appeared as though Djokovic vomited slightly during the changeover before the fourth set, and he looked slowed at times early in the set.
“Struggled a little bit physically throughout that third set,” Djokovic said. “Then in the fourth started to feel a little bit better, but then just crucial points he played better.”
Nadal broke for a 4-2 advantage in the fourth, but Djokovic bounced right back with a break when Nadal fired a forehand long. The break came immediately after Nadal appeared to wince in pain when going up for an overhead.
After both held serve to make it 5-4 for Nadal, Djokovic went up 30-0 but didn’t win another point. He sent a forehand long to set up the first championship point, but Nadal didn’t have to hit another shot as Djokovic committed a double fault to end the 3 1/2-hour match.
Djokovic fell to 6-7 all-time in Grand Slam finals, while Nadal improved to 14-6 in major title matches. The Spaniard now trails only Federer’s record of 21 Grand Slam finals.