PARIS (AP) — Rafael Nadal is still better on clay than the most successful Grand Slam champion of all time, beating Roger Federer in their fourth French Open final 7-5, 7-6 (3), 5-7, 6-1 on Sunday.
Nadal, who equaled Bjorn Borg’s record of six French Open titles and earned his 10th major with the victory, dropped to his knees and covered his face after Federer sent a forehand long on match point.
“To win this final against one of the best players in the world and in history is something which is really fantastic for me,” said Nadal, who will keep his No. 1 ranking. “It’s one of my most beautiful dreams.”
The top-ranked Nadal improved his record at Roland Garros to 45-1, and to 17-8 against Federer. In Grand Slam finals, Nadal is 6-2 against his main rival.
“As it often happens, he is the best on clay,” Federer said. “He proved it once again.”
It was the first time in more than two years that Nadal and Federer met in a Grand Slam final. They have played in 13 major finals, seven more than any other pair of men in tennis history.
Nadal was playing to Federer’s backhand on Court Philippe Chatrier, but even the 16-time Grand Slam champion’s forehand was off. He committed 56 unforced errors in the match, while Nadal had only 27.
In the break of service that finally broke Federer for good, the Swiss missed an easy forehand, double-faulted and then put a forehand into the net. That gave Nadal a 3-1 lead in the fourth set, and enough to hold on for victory.
“For today, we played, I think, a good match,” Nadal said, then apologized to Federer for beating him. “Sorry for that and well done to his team.”
Nadal is the second youngest man behind Borg to reach 10 major titles. The Spaniard also is about six months younger than Federer was when he won his 10th.
Federer is 14-1 is Grand Slam finals against opponents other than Nadal. But besides the four defeats at Roland Garros, Federer lost to Nadal once at Wimbledon and once at the Australian Open. His two wins over Nadal both came at Wimbledon.
Federer looked like the one to beat early in the match, breaking Nadal’s first service game and later watching from his changeover chair as Nadal called for a trainer to look at his left foot.
Leading 5-2 and perhaps sensing some weakness, Federer held a set point on Nadal’s serve.
But the turning point came on that very point, when Federer tapped a backhand drop shot that landed just outside the line. The 2009 champion argued his case, but the chair umpire, off his perch and jogging across the court to investigate, ruled the ball was out.
“I definitely thought that I got maybe a touch unlucky there and he got a touch lucky,” Federer said. “So it was a tough moment. I think that was one of my bigger chances of the match.”
After a forehand return into the net and a backhand winner from Nadal, Federer folded.
Nadal won seven straight games after that point, breaking Federer for the first time in the next game and then holding to 5-5 and breaking yet again when Federer sent a forehand into the net. In the final game, Federer led 15-30 but Nadal won three straight points to take the set.
“I was able to play my best when I needed my best,” Nadal said.
Nadal took Federer’s serve for the third time in a row in the opening game of the second set and looked to be rolling to victory until a 10-minute rain delay later halted play.
Nadal was leading 5-4 — after the pair traded breaks in the previous two games — and had a set point at 40-30. But the Spaniard put a forehand into the net to keep Federer in the game.
The rain then forced the players to take cover, with Federer propping himself up on a table in the trainer’s room and Nadal spending some time changing his shirt and fiddling with the strings on his racket.
When play resumed, so did Federer’s quest for a 17th Grand Slam title.
The Swiss won seven points in a row, breaking Nadal and then holding to 6-5. But after Nadal held in the 12th game, the Spaniard dominated the tiebreaker, jumping out to a 4-0 lead and then 6-2 before his forehand winner ended the set.
Nadal earned his fifth break in the third set to take a 4-2 lead, but Federer wasn’t giving up yet. He broke back at love and then held to 4-4 with his 10th ace.
In the 11th game, Federer broke again with a forehand tap that Nadal couldn’t reach. Needing four points to win the set, Federer produced three winners — and one error — after Nadal had sent a forehand into the net on the first point.
“You’re not thinking of winning down two sets to love and 4-2, but you’re thinking of coming back and turning around the match,” Federer said. “All of a sudden at 0-0 in the fourth set you think, ‘OK we have a match again.'”