‘King of clay’ holds court

Rafael Nadal wins his record 10th French Open and 15th Grand Slam ti­tle.

Los Angeles Times - - FRONT PAGE - as­so­ci­ated press

PARIS — As he sat in front of a TV to watch last year’s French Open fi­nal, side­lined by an in­jured left wrist, Rafael Nadal had no way to know for sure, of course, that he would re­turn to the height of his pow­ers.

For the sec­ond time in a row, the most im­por­tant match at the most im­por­tant clay-court tour­na­ment was be­ing con­tested with­out him. As the 2017 edi­tion at Roland Gar­ros be­gan, Nadal’s drought with­out a Grand Slam ti­tle was stretch­ing to three full years.

“It was dif­fi­cult,” Nadal’s un­cle and coach, Toni, said. “We were ask­ing our­selves whether he would be able achieve this one more time.”

Turned out he could, and he did, as mas­ter­ful as at any time. Over­whelm­ingly good from start to fin­ish in Sun­day’s fi­nal, and for the en­tire two weeks, Nadal won his record 10th French Open ti­tle with a 6-2, 6-3, 6-1 vic­tory over 2015 cham­pion Stan Wawrinka.

“A per­fect Roland Gar­ros for me,” Nadal said. Call it a Per­fect 10. “I play my best at all events, but the feel­ing here is im­pos­si­ble to de­scribe. It’s im­pos­si­ble to com­pare it to an­other place,” Nadal said. “The nerves, the adren­a­line, I feel on the court are im­pos­si­ble to com­pare to an­other feel­ing. This is the most im­por­tant event in my ca­reer.”

Not only did Nadal win ev­ery set he played in the tour­na­ment, he dropped a to­tal of only 35 games, the sec­ond fewest by any man on the way to any ti­tle at a ma­jor tour­na­ment with all matches be­ing best-of-five-sets in the Open era, which dates to 1968.

“On pa­per, you look at the scores, it all seems fairly easy,” he said. “But it’s not.”

No other man or woman has won 10 cham­pi­onships at the same ma­jor in the Open era. Along with im­prov­ing to 10-0 in fi­nals at Roland Gar­ros, Nadal in­creased his haul to 15 Grand Slam tro­phies, break­ing a tie with Pete Sam­pras for sec­ond place in the his­tory of men’s ten­nis, be­hind only ri­val Roger Fed­erer’s 18.

It marked a stir­ring re­turn to the top for Nadal at the site he loves the most: He is 79-2 at the French Open, 102-2 in all best-of-five-set matches on clay.

“He’s play­ing the best he’s ever played. That’s for sure,” said Wawrinka, who had won 11 matches in a row on clay. “But not only here.”

True. Nadal, 31, leads the tour with four ti­tles and 43 match wins this sea­son and will rise to No. 2 in the ATP rank­ings Mon­day.

Last year in Paris, Nadal with­drew be­fore the third round, mak­ing the an­nounce­ment while wear­ing a blue brace on his left wrist and res­ig­na­tion of his face. He couldn’t bring him­self to watch much of the rest of the 2016 French Open, he said, other than some dou­bles matches in­volv­ing a good pal, and the sin­gles fi­nal.

Fi­nally back to full strength in the off­sea­son, he re­turned to work, re­build­ing his fore­hand and re­dou­bling his ef­forts to be elite.

Nadal won in his French Open de­but in 2005 at age 19, won again in 2006, 2007 and 2008. Af­ter a fourth-round loss on bad knees in 2009, he grabbed five con­sec­u­tive French Opens (2010-14). A quar­ter­fi­nal loss in 2015 ended that run, and then came last year’s in­jury.

“Last year,” Nadal said, “was not an easy one.”

Wawrinka in­sisted a fiveset semi­fi­nal win Fri­day over No. 1-ranked Andy Mur­ray did not take any­thing out of him phys­i­cally. The prob­lem against Nadal, Wawrinka said, was more men­tal.

“He puts this doubt in your head when you play against him,” said Wawrinka, who had been 3-0 in Grand Slam fi­nals, in­clud­ing a vic­tory over Nadal at the 2014 Aus­tralian Open.

Yoan Valat EPA

Petr David Josek As­so­ci­ated Press

AF­TER pulling out of the 2016 French Open with an in­jury, Rafael Nadal swept Stan Wawrinka in fi­nal.

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