Rafael Nadal, despite having the best clay court record in history, was facing the one man that has beaten him fairly consistently recently, Novak Djokovic. Four straight losses against the Serbian leading up to the French Open, including the ATP Master Series 1000 Rome Final had many wondering if it was time for a new champion at Roland Garros. Not so fast. Nadal claimed his ninth French Open title and 14th grand slam overall by defeating his rival, and reaffirmed his dominance on the red dirt. He is the King of Clay.
Reminiscent of Rome and the way Djokovic played Nadal in that final, in the first set the Serbian stood his ground on the baseline. Taking the Spaniard off the court with his backhand out wide, he was able to draw first blood in the eighth game of the set, breaking the defending champion. With solid serving, Djokovic was able to close out the first set 6-3. There was a lot of talk about the importance of winning the first set. In the previous 11 grand slam meetings, the winner of the first set went on to win the match nine times.
The second set seemed to be more of the same as Djokovic continued to hamper the Mallorcan from running around his forehand and imposing his will. Nadal was able to gain the initiative when he broke Djokovic for a 4-2 lead. However the world number two was able to break right back and bring the second set back onto level terms. Near the end of the second set as Djokovic was serving to force a tie-breaker, the Spaniard broke to take the second set 7-5, and level the match at a set a piece.
The third set saw the defending champion turning the tide of the match with his forehand. Nadal went up 3-0 quickly. Djokovic attempted to fight back in a ten minute game at 4-2, but Nadal was able to hold strong. The champion went on to take the third set 6-2 and remind everyone that he is the King of Clay.
Errors continued to creep into Djokovic’s game as the fourth set began. A wide backhand from the Serbian gave Nadal the lead in the fourth set to go up 4-2. With the title within sight, and the Emirates ATP world number one ranking on the line, it seemed that Nadal was on his way. Djokovic had other ideas though, and broke right back to put the fourth set back on track.
Nadal was the first to serve as the set opened, and because of this he found himself up 5-4 as Djokovic attempted to stay on point. Nadal battled his way to a break-point, which was also a championship point, the weary Serbian cracked under the pressure and double faulted to give a very emotional Nadal the victory. The final score was 3-6, 7-5, 6-2, 6-4, and gave Nadal his ninth Roland Garros crown, 1,650,000 Euros, retention of the number one ranking, his 14th grand slam title and the reaffirmation that he is the King of Clay.
Commentary by John Benjamin Wilson