Rafael Nadal, the King of Clay, had something to prove coming into the Roland Garros finals after Swede Robin Soderling has defeated him in their last two meetings, most notably in the fourth round of the tournament last year. Nadal, who was essentially a broken player last year, has stepped on to the clay courts of this season in dominant fashion, dropping only two sets the entire clay court season. The sight of Soderling, the only man to have ever beaten him in Paris, down the other end of the court understandably had Nadal, and his fans, a little bit nervous.
There was just a general feeling (albeit an anxious feeling) that the Spaniard would find a way out of this match and would make a clean sweep of the clay court, reasserting his dominance at Roland Garros.
Despite Rafa not dropping a set on route to the finals, Soderling had still spent 1 hour less on court, not that Nadal’s incredible ability to recover, or play a five set match, was ever questioned. Soderling had looked a little weary at the end of his five set battle against Tomas Berdych in the semi’s but his early service accuracy showed no signs of fatigue.
In the fourth game Soderling was the first to get a break point opportunity after Rafa pushed a few balls long as he tried to maintain good depth throughout play, something he lacked against Soderling last year. Rafa was lucky that a short ball that Soderling tried to put away went long. Nadal covered a lot of court but eventually held, thanks to his brilliant defensive skills.
Nadal maintained his inch perfect depth after a bad mid point challenge got Soderling back in the fifth game, and once again Soderling’s hard flat forehand to Nadal’s forehand, with the Spaniard on the run, got the Swede out of trouble on a break point. Poor judgement, this time from Robin, gave Nadal the break as Soderling left a cross court forehand he thought was going long, Nadal’s severe spin landing the ball just insider the baseline. Nadal, brimming with confidence, smacked forehand winners to consolidate the break and take a 4-2 lead.
Soderling struggled to hold serve in the 7th game as he breathed heavily as Nadal worked him round the court. A few huge serves made up for the points where he lacked commitment and handed over break point chances to the Spaniard, who was unable to convert the opportunities.
Soderling fended off triple break points with some huge serving to force Nadal to serve for the set. Rafa was almost growling as he hit balls, working a bit harder as the temperature started to drop slights, eventually taking the set 6-4 after almost an hour of play.
The clouds moved over the court as the second set started, an ominous sign for the final. The crowd chanted Robin’s name as the Swede found himself up double break point in the second game. Nadal managed to save both despite the increasingly heavy conditions that were starting to favour Soderling. Robin sensed the change and kept going to Nadal’s forehand as Rafa struggled to find his depth of shots. Somehow Nadal managed to defend incredibly well to end a point at the net and save another break point opportunity. Uncle Toni was on his feet when his nephew finally got a game point, eventually holding.
After 16 minutes they were level at 1-1 in the second set, and Soderling was looking increasingly confident. As was the case in Nadal’s semi’s someone in the crowd fainted and had to be assisted by the medics.
Some incredible cross court shots from Nadal gave him an early break to love and a 3-2 lead, however, his depth was still lacking in the heavier conditions. Nadal was relentless as he ran down some incredible shots from Soderling and created some phenomenal angles and showing some great touch at net as he proved his knees really are just fine. Rafa secured the double break and a 5-2 lead. The fired up Spaniard opened his shoulders to claim the set 6-2 as his opponent begun to look a little weary and frustrated.
Soderling’s frustrations continued as he continued to push balls just wide, allowing Nadal to break in the opening game. Fatigue played a role as Soderling managed only 41% of first serves, only 53% over the course of the whole match.
The intensity of the match started to drop as Robin stopped moving as well and started to get a bit lazy with his foot work. The Swede tried to fire himself back up, thumping his chest when he won a point on his opponents serve.
In front of the Queen of Spain Rafael reclaimed his Roland Garros trophy 6-4, 6-2, 6-4 after 2 hours and 18 minutes of play, much to Uncle Toni’s joy.
Still showing the same emotion he displayed when he won Monte Carlo after almost 12 months with no title, Nadal sat in his chair and wept into his towel. It is Nadal’s 7th Grand Slam title.
Rafa endeared himself to the French crowd by producing some fairly good French in his acceptance speech, before switching to Spanish.
The victory puts Nadal just one Roland Garros title behind Bjorn Borg who has won 6. The win also means Nadal is the first player to ever win the three clay Masters 1000 series and the French Open. In winning in Paris, Rafael has reclaimed his position at the top of men’s tennis, stopping Federer from exceeding Pete Sampras’ all time record of weeks spent in the top spot. Federer and Sampras are now equal.
Queens starts tomorrow.