Wednesday 21 February 2018

French Open: It's seventh heaven as Nadal enters record books

Paul Newman aT ROLAND GARROS

BEATING Rafael Nadal on clay remains the greatest challenge in tennis and yesterday the task proved beyond even Novak Djokovic -- the world's best player and a man with history in his sights.

As Djokovic's hopes of becoming only the third man to hold all four Grand Slam singles titles were washed away on another rainy day at Roland Garros, Nadal continued his rampage through the clay-court record books to claim his seventh French Open title.

Resuming the final with a two sets to one lead, play having been abandoned at 8.0 the previous evening because of the rain-sodden court, Nadal took command with a break of serve in the opening game and went on to win 6-4 6-3 2-6 7-5.

It was a final in which the quality of the tennis fluctuated wildly, but both men saved some of their best for last before Nadal secured victory without hitting a ball.

It says much for the relentless pressure that the Spaniard applies that Djokovic double-faulted on the first match point. It was the third time in the match that he had dropped serve in such fashion.

In his moment of victory, Nadal sank to his knees before looking up to his entourage with an expression that combined joy, incredulity and relief. Toni Nadal, his uncle and coach, leapt into the air before the champion climbed into the stands to hug every one of his party of coaches, family and friends.

"This is a really emotional day, to win here, win another time," Nadal said later. "Sure, the seventh is important because I am the player who has more titles here than anyone, but for me the important thing is just to win at Roland Garros, whether it's the first, second, third or seventh."

While there had been much at stake for Djokovic, there was arguably a greater load on the shoulders of Nadal, who would have slipped to No 3 in the world rankings if he had lost.

The French Open was the last Grand Slam title the Spaniard held following Djokovic's all-out assault on the game's major honours and, after losing to the Serb in the finals at Wimbledon, New York and Melbourne, he had to win to avoid becoming the first man to claim an 'anti-Grand Slam' of defeats in four successive finals.

Instead, the world No 2, playing in his fifth Grand Slam final in succession, made history of a different kind. He now holds the record for the number of French Open titles on his own (having previously shared the record of six with Bjorn Borg) -- an astonishing achievement given that he has only just celebrated his 26th birthday.

Nadal's 11th Grand Slam title leaves him behind only Roger Federer (16), Pete Sampras (14) and Roy Emerson (12), but it is his record on clay that almost defies belief.

In 53 matches at Roland Garros, he has lost only once (to Robin Soderling), while his tally of clay-court titles (36) is bettered in the Open era only by Guillermo Vilas (45) and Thomas Muster (40). Since April 2005, he has played 221 matches on clay and he has lost just seven of them.

When it was pointed out that Borg retired at the age Nadal is now, the Spaniard said he hoped to continue "for a long time", provided he maintained fitness, motivation and passion.

Motivation

"That's my goal," he said. "I work hard every day. I wake up every day with enough motivation to go to practice and to keep improving. When that changes on too many days, it will be the time to say goodbye."

Nadal identified mental strength as his key quality. "That's one of the most important things, especially on clay, more than on other surfaces, because you have to run, you have to suffer sometimes, you have to play with more tactics, because you have more time to think, to do things.

"I have always been scared to lose. That's why I go on court every day against each opponent with full respect, knowing you can lose or win."

Nadal said he'd been "very nervous" on Sunday, after losing eight games in a row in conditions "much more favourable for Novak". But he was pleased with the way he played yesterday. "I played with much more aggression." (© Independent News Service)

Irish Independent

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