KING of Clay Rafael Nadal hailed the French Open as the “most special tournament in the world” after the Spaniard cemented his unique bond with Roland Garros by lifting the trophy for a record seventh time.
Nadal completed a rain-delayed four-set victory over world No1 Novak Djokovic yesterday to overtake six-time winner Bjorn Borg and equal the dominance Pete Sampras enjoyed at Wimbledon during his prime.
The Majorcan’s milestone 6-4, 6-3, 2-6, 7-5 triumph secured his 11th grand slam while ending Djokovic’s hopes of becoming the first man for 42 years to hold all four Majors at once.
“It’s an honour but the most important thing is this tournament,” said Nadal, 26. “It’s unforgettable, one of the most special moments in my career. For me, this tournament is the most special tournament in the world.”
Djokovic, who conceded the match with an uncharacteristic double fault, played down his disappointment at failing to add the French Open to his Australian, US and Wimbledon conquests.
“I feel really privileged to be in this position, being in the final at Roland Garros for the first time,” said the Serb. “I enjoyed the match, Rafa was the better player. I hope to come back next year and play even better.”
Djokovic had hinted at a dramatic comeback to rival that of his quarter-final against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, in which he saved four match points, when he won the third set on Sunday evening before showers halted play.
The game’s dominant player of the last 18 months has shown grit as well as guile on his all-conquering ascent to the apex of men’s tennis, so the final appeared delicately poised when it resumed at 2-1 to Djokovic in the fourth.
But Nadal, who had not dropped a set on red clay this year until the final, immediately seized the initiative by breaking back and proceeded to ratchet up the pressure on the one man ranked above him. Djokovic, sensing the end of his extraordinary run of three successive grand slam wins, vented frustration by slamming his racquet against his head but ultimately handed Nadal a familiar crown in the tamest of fashions.