Hail The King Of Clay!

Rafael Nadal was left to drink in the applause, relieved and elated to win his ninth French Open title, his fifth in a row. Kevin Mitchell Guardian tennis reporter

A match up of the best players in the world

By Roger Childs

Nadal wins in ParisNovak Djokovic had beaten Rafael Nadal in Rome, at the last major clay tournament before Roland Garros.  But could he do it again in Paris and claim the one grand slam that had eluded him? For Nadal, a win would mean his ninth French Open title, a record for any of the grand slams. The world’s numbers one and two were destined to meet again in the final on Court Philippe Chatrier, where they had slugged out an epic five setter in 2013. However this time Nadal won it comfortably 3-6, 7-5, 6-2. 6-4, and created records for the Roland Garros tournament which are unlikely to ever be beaten.

The Nadal – Djokovic rivalry is one of the greatest in the history of tennis. Prior to the French Open, the ledger was as follows:

  • All matches: Nadal 22-19
  • All finals: Djokovic 12-9
  • Grand slam finals: all square 3-3

The greatest clay player of all time

NadalRafael Nadal came into the tournament, having won eight previous titles on the Roland Garros orange clay. The next best in the modern era is six, won by the stylish Bjorn Borg in the 1970s and early 1980s. It was fitting that the Swedish legend was guest of honour this year to present the men’s singles trophy.

Prior to the 2014 French Open, Nadal had made just two of the four finals in the lead up clay tournaments, winning in Madrid but losing in Rome.

At his best, Nadal’s playing strengths are his

  • anticipation and accurate placement
  • incredible speed around the court which enables him to make seemingly impossible returns
  • lethal forehand, probably the most powerful of any player on the current circuit
  • strong double-handed backhand
  • cross court winners often from well behind the baseline.

He would need to be at the top of the game if he was to retain his Roland Garros title. His opponent, Novak Djokovic, is a player he greatly respects:  Playing against Novak is always a big challenge for me, every time I beat him, I have to play to my limit.

DjokovicA worthy finalist

Djokovic has won more recent grand slams that any other player: five of the last thirteen. But the French Open is not one of them, even though he came very close to pulling off a win in the five set classic against Nadal in 2013.

However he knew that the champion would be very hard to beat in Paris. There is no bigger challenge than playing against Nadal.

Changing fortunes in the final

Although it didn’t reach the heights of this year’s women’s thriller, the men’s final still had plenty of interest and incident.

  • Set 1: Leading 4-3, Djokovic broke Nadal’s service on his third break point. Serving for the set the Serb was down 15-40 but recovered to take it out 6-3.
  • Set 2: It looked as if this would be decided by a tie break as Djokovic served with the score at 5-6. However, a double fault and superb returns by Nadal saw the Spaniard prevail 7-5.
  • Set 3: Nadal led 40-30 in Djokovic’s first service game and the Serb overcut an easy volley in the crucial next point to give the Spaniard a 2-0 lead. Djokovic looked very tired during the set, however down 2-4 he had a break point on Nadal’s service. The opportunity was missed and Djokovic threw his racquet to the ground in frustration. Nadal took the set 6-2.
  • Set 4: There had been some top quality tennis as games went with service to 5-4. However, uncharacteristic errors let Djokovic down in what turned out to be the final game. Up 30-0 on his serve, he twice hit the ball long and then double faulted on the final point to give Nadal the match.

A great champion

Nadal and DjokovicNadal acknowledged what the loss meant for his opponent: I feel sorry for Novak. I think he deserves to win this tournament. I’m sure he will in the future.

In response, Djokovic was gracious in defeat. Congratulations to Rafa and his team, it is incredible to win this tournament nine times. It was an emotional day. I have tried with all my power, my strength, my capacities, but Rafa was the strongest on court.

So Rafael Nadal peaked at the right time to win his ninth French Open. He is now tied for second with Pete Sampras on 14 Grand Slam singles titles, three behind the great Roger Federer. With Wimbledon coming up later in the month, Nadal will keen to maintain the momentum.