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The king of clay: Rafael Nadal rolls to his 10th French Open championship

Rafael Nadal knows well just how it feels to celebrate on the clay at the French Open. (Julian Finney/Getty Images)

There really was never any doubt. The world’s rankings may have had Stan Wawrinka a notch ahead of Rafael Nadal, but the French Open at Roland Garros is the Spaniard’s playground, and Nadal had little trouble winning his 10th championship on the famed clay court as fans chanted, “Rafa! Rafa!”

“There is no one in the world who can make you feel more inadequate than Rafa Nadal on this court,” said NBC’s Mary Carillo, describing Nadal’s dominance. Wawrinka, the Swiss player ranked third in the world, had nothing in his arsenal to counteract Nadal’s attack. Nadal cruised in straight sets, winning 6-2, 6-3, 6-1.

When it was over, Nadal collapsed onto the red clay. Then, he took a moment to weep into a towel, overwhelmed as he sat waiting for the trophy presentation. He addressed the crowd in French, then broke into Spanish as he became emotional.

“The feeling that I have here is impossible to describe and difficult to compare to other places,” he said in an English interview on the court. “For me, the nerves, the adrenaline that I feel when I play on this court, it’s impossible to compare to another feeling. For me it’s the most important event in my career without a doubt. Winning again here is something that I cannot describe.”

Almost immediately, Nadal’s team celebrated with a “#CHAMP10N” tweet.

The French Open victory, Nadal’s first at Roland Garros since 2014, is his 15th in a Grand Slam tournament, breaking a tie with Pete Sampras. Only Roger Federer, who beat Nadal in five sets in the Australian Open final in January, has more Grand Slam titles, at 18. He joins Sampras and Ken Rosewall as the only players to win Grand Slam titles in their teens, 20s and 30s.

The victory is particularly sweet for Nadal, who has overcome wrist and knee injuries over the past few years. “It’s true that 10 is a beautiful number, but actually my favorite is nine,” Nadal said before facing Wawrinka, the 2015 French Open winner. “For sure if it becomes 10 it will be my favorite. But the thing that I am more proud of in my career probably is 2013. It was amazing.”

Nadal was sidelined for seven months between 2012 and 2013 because of the knee injury and a stomach virus. He returned, though, to win two Grand Slams — a feat he no doubt hopes he can repeat this year.

Now like Federer, who skipped the French Open to prepare for Wimbledon and the U.S. Open, Nadal will head for Wimbledon at the top of his game. Again.

“Every time you win a major you don’t know if it’s the last one and you know that,” Nadal told NBC’s John McEnroe. “Every one is so difficult. The only thing I do is work hard every day if my health allows me to do it and I know if I am healthy enough that I’m probably going to have my chances.”

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