The Mercury

Rafa the King of Clay makes it six of the best


PARIS: Rafa Nadal racked up a record-equalling sixth French Open title with a four-sets defeat of great rival Roger Federer yesterday as his potent powers on clay again proved irresistib­le.

The 7-5 7-6 5-7 6-1 victory brought him level with Swede Bjorn Borg for Roland Garros men’s singles triumphs, and made sure he would stay world No 1 ahead of Serbia’s Novak Djokovic with Wimbledon looming.

“It’s fantastic to win this final against the player who’s certainly the best in the world, the best in history,” said Nadal, who has beaten Federer in six of their eight meetings in grand slam finals, four of them in Paris.

“It’s a very special, outstandin­g tournament for me. It’s one of my wildest dreams come true.”

Swiss Federer, who was bidding to beat the Spaniard on the Paris clay for the first time in five attempts, made a lightning start and squandered a point to win the first set, but was ultimately powerless to stop Nadal’s charge.

“ Congratula­tions to Rafa for having won the tournament once again. He played a super match today,” said Federer, whose one Roland Garros title came in 2009 after Nadal was beaten earlier in the tournament by Robin Soderling.

The day started bright and sunny with Swiss fans playing their huge alpine horns in the tree-lined paths of the age-old venue.

A handful of Nadal supporters, some wearing Spain soccer shirts, were also ready for another classic duel between two of the greatest players the world has seen.

Like so many of their epic battles down the years, this was another match full of exhilarati­ng rallies and spellbindi­ng winners, but “King of Clay” Nadal deservedly prevailed.

Federer started the encounter with a confident service game and then snatched his opponent’s serve on his fourth opportunit­y when Nadal surprising­ly spun a short forehand into the net.

“Roger, Roger!” the 15 000strong crowd chanted as the 2009 champion comfortabl­y held for 3-0 with two thumping aces. Looking rattled, Nadal had a blister powdered by his trainer during the changeover at 5-2 down.

Federer came out all guns blazing in the eighth game, eking out a set point on Nadal’s serve which the Spaniard saved after a Federer drop-shot floated marginally into the tram lines.

It proved crucial as Nadal suddenly found his range.

Federer’s first serve let him down when he served for the set at 5-3, and Nadal pounced to break back when Federer netted a volley.

Hitting deeper and deeper, Nadal broke again in the 11th game as Federer’s level dipped and he sealed the first set with a huge cross-court forehand winner after 62 minutes.

Nadal continued his momentum into the second set to break in the first game and then held serve to love to move 2-0 up.

Federer broke back for 4-4 when Nadal netted, but the Swiss immediatel­y dropped serve when a backhand went wide.

With Nadal on set point rain began to fall for the first time in two weeks, and after Federer won the point to bring the score to deuce the rain grew harder and the players went off to the locker room.

After a 10minute break Nadal came out to earn a second set point, but Federer saved it and then broke for 5-5. Federer held with ease but Nadal responded to set up a tiebreak. Federer played a subdued series of points to lose the tiebreaker 7-3.

The 29-year-old Federer clung on in the third set, battling back from 4-2 down and gained the key break for 6-5 as the spark returned to his play.

When he had 0-40 on Nadal’s serve at the start of the fourth set it seemed that an improbable comeback could be possible, but Nadal dug deep and refused to allow the Swiss back into the match.

Federer looked jaded as he dropped serve to love in the fourth game with some wafted errors and Nadal showed his ruthless streak to roar to victory.

When Federer blazed a forehand over the baseline the 25-year-old fell to his knees with his sweat-drenched forehead pressed to his beloved red clay. – Reuters

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