The red clay of Roland Garros suits Rafael Nadal’s relentless baseline slugging style perhaps better than any surface has ever favored a tennis player.
But when the rain grew heavy in Sunday night’s French Open final and the returns from Novak Djokovic even heavier, the master of the clay court found himself in freefall.
With an overnight delay to regroup, Nadal came out fresh and focused Monday morning and quickly finished off the world’s No. 1 player to claim a 6-4, 6-3, 2-6, 7-5 victory and his record seventh French Open title.
Just as importantly for the Spaniard, Monday’s victory ended a string of three straight Grand Slam final losses to Djokovic and kept the Serb from the rare feat of holding all four major titles at the same time.
“It was a very difficult match against the best player in the world,” said Nadal, who desperately wanted to stop playing when the conditions worsened Sunday evening. “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.”
Nadal was cruising toward the title when the rain picked up Sunday and officials refused to stop play. Djokovic went on to win eight consecutive games, taking the third set and the momentum before play was halted again, and officials decided to postpone the remainder of the match to Monday for the first time since 1973.
With dry balls and more suitable conditions, Nadal returned to form Monday morning while Djokovic struggled at the outset and was broken on serve in the opening game to level the fourth set at 2-2. The dry court allowed Nadal to slide back and forth along the baseline as he pounded looping topspin shots back across the court while Djokovic looked to shorten the points. Play was nearly stopped again with Nadal leading 5-4, but the quick rain shower passed and after both men held serve, Djokovic double-faulted on match point.
“It’s unfortunate because I was playing better, feeling better on the court in the third set yesterday,” said Djokovic, who fell to 0-4 against Nadal at Roland Garros. “Today, he started strong. I started slower. I was a little bit unfortunate in that first game and things turned around.
“But I don’t find an excuse in that. The better player won today, so congratulations on that.”
Now Rafa will look to reclaim the Wimbledon title he lost to Djokovic last summer when play begins at the All-England Club later this month.