Sunday, June 5, 2011

Nadal Equals Borg's Record With Sixth French Open Title

PARIS — Bjorn Borg could not make it to Roland Garros on Sunday, which turned out to be a pity. It would have made for just the right photograph: Borg handing over the Coupe des Mousquetaires to his successor in the soft evening light.
Li Na Dethrones Schiavone at French Open (June 5, 2011)

It has been 30 years since Borg won his sixth and last French Open, and it was possible to imagine then that no other relentless baseliner would be able to match his domination at the world’s greatest clay-court tournament.

In fact, the man who would do it had not yet been born. But Rafael Nadal is in the prime of life now, and on Sunday, he reeled in Borg and won his sixth title here by holding off his customary French Open foil, Roger Federer.

Nadal’s and Federer’s rivalry is perhaps the greatest in the history of their sport, but it has been decidedly one-sided here. Nadal’s 7-5, 7-6 (3), 5-7, 6-1 victory Sunday gave him a 5-0 record against Federer on the terre battue of Paris. Four of those victories have come in finals, and though this match was a thriller in comparison with Nadal’s 6-1, 6-3, 6-0 victory in 2008, it still ended with him imposing his topspin forehand and Federer slumping toward the trophy ceremony with the crowd commiserating.

“For me it’s something very special to equal the six titles of Bjorn,” Nadal said. “But for me the most important thing is winning Roland Garros.”

They love the French-speaking Federer in Paris, the only Grand Slam city where he has been an underdog during his glory years. But though the chants of “Ro-ger, Ro-ger!” helped him scale revivalist heights Friday in his magnificent victory against Novak Djokovic, they were not nearly enough to lift the 29-year-old Federer past the 25-year-old Nadal.

Federer did have his chances, perhaps none more significant than the set point he failed to convert with Nadal serving at 2-5 in the opening set. But Federer’s backhand drop shot — a shot he used often and effectively throughout the match — landed just wide.

Nadal held serve, then broke Federer in the next game.

“That’s how it goes, Rafa is tough,” Federer said. “I definitely thought I got maybe a touch unlucky there and he got a touch lucky.”

These two masters of spin put on quite a spectacle in the early going, as each reshaped the ball, whipping and slashing through their strokes. For much of the opening set, Federer was able to avoid the pattern that has caused him so much grief against the left-handed Nadal. Instead of having to hit one-handed backhand after one-handed backhand above his shoulder, he was playing his forehand with conviction into Nadal’s two-handed backhand. As he had all tournament, Federer was also moving beautifully.

But sustaining that level against Nadal on clay once again proved too much. Nadal scrapped and raised his level to win the first set. He then shrugged off a false step late in the second set. With Nadal serving for a two-set lead at 5-4, and up, 40-30, a brief rainstorm forced the players to make a quick trip to the locker room.

When they returned little more than 10 minutes later, Federer saved two set points and ended up breaking Nadal. It proved to be nothing more than a brief respite for Federer, who played a mediocre tiebreaker, pressing and making errors in bunches.

“Obviously I’m the one who’s playing with smaller margins so obviously I’m always going to go through a bit more ups and downs,” Federer said. “Whereas Rafa is content doing the one thing the entire time.”

Federer would make one more meaningful surge, rallying from a 2-4 deficit by breaking Nadal at love and then storming to win the third set. But Nadal broke Federer at love himself in the fourth game of the final set as Federer finished off the game with a double fault and a forehand into the net.

 The final felt like a processional from there, and when the match ended with a forehand error, Nadal dropped to his knees briefly before jogging forward to,to continue:

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