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2010: A Remarkable Day

Paris, France

Rafael Nadal© Getty ImagesRafael Nadal won a historic "Clay Slam".

In a remarkable Sunday for Rafael Nadal, the Spaniard won his fifth Roland Garros title, returned to No. 1 in the South African Airways 2010 ATP Rankings and became the first player to qualify for the season-ending Barclays ATP World Tour Finals, after defeating Robin Soderling 6-4, 6-2, 6-4 in the final in Paris.

At the age of 24 years and four days, Nadal became just the second man in history to win five or more Roland Garros titles. Bjorn Borg finished his esteemed career with six titles on the Parisian clay. The Spaniard will subsequently return to the No. 1 spot in the South African Airways ATP Rankings for the first time since 22 June, 2009.

"[It was a] very important victory for me. I think one of the most important victories in my career," said Nadal. "It was a difficult year for me the last year. I worked a lot to be here. I was very nervous during all the tournament, because I know before that I was ready to try to win another time, and I saw the chances there. But the very positive thing is today I was ready to play. I was ready to play with calm and to try my best and to enjoy the match. I did, and it was a very special day.

"For me I was 11 months without winning a title, so a lot of tournaments going back to home without a victory. A lot of difficult moments, because in a few of these tournaments I had to retire for the problems. So is difficult moments to accept. It was personal goal to be back at my best. So I did. And for me, sure, the important thing is Roland Garros. But for me the biggest thing is the personal satisfaction to be here, to be here another time and to be at the top level."

Victory for Nadal secured his seventh major singles title. Together with his five victories at Roland Garros in 2005-2008 and 2010, the left-hander also lifted the Wimbledon trophy in a dramatic finale in 2008 and won the Australian Open last year.

Nadal has been in devastating form throughout the fortnight, racing to the title without the loss of a set despite coming across opponents such as Lleyton Hewitt, Thomaz Bellucci, Nicolas Almagro and Jurgen Melzer on his route through. It is the second time that the left-hander has won a Grand Slam championship without losing a set, having also achieved the feat at Roland Garros in 2008. In the Open Era, only two other players have won the title at Roland Garros without dropping a set - Ilie Nastase in 1973 and Bjorn Borg in 1978 and 1980.

Nadal closed the European clay-court circuit with an unbeaten 22-0 record, which began with victory at the Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters. The Manacor native went on to become the first player in history to win all three clay-court ATP World Tour Masters 1000 tournaments in the same year and then achieved a historic “Clay Slam” with his triumph at Roland Garros.

The records do not stop there for Nadal, though. His victories in Monte-Carlo (d. Verdasco), Rome (d. Ferrer) and Madrid (d. Federer) saw him overtake Andre Agassi by winning an Open Era record 18 ATP World Tour Masters 1000 trophies. He also recorded his 200th clay-court win with victory over Bellucci in the fourth round at Roland Garros, becoming the quickest male player (losing fewest matches) in the Open Era to reach the milestone.

Despite the staggering records Nadal has achieved at such a young age, the modest Spaniard declined to say he is the best clay-court player ever. "For me, that's more than a dream. When I see these titles and these numbers, for me is amazing. I don't know how I did it. But first of all, you are going to be very arrogant if I say for myself I am the best of the history. Second thing, I don't believe I am the best of the history. I try my best every day, and we will see when I finish my career. I not gonna be the one who decides if I am the best or not.

"I'm very lucky, and I am very fortunate in life to have had the opportunity of experiencing all this at the age of 24. Never in my wildest dream would I have dreamt of such beautiful presents. Life is very kind to me."

SoderlingIt was not to be a repeat of the fourth-round victory over Nadal that Soderling recorded en route to his first major final appearance at Roland Garros last year. On that occasion, Soderling lost out to Roger Federer, whom he then defeated in the quarter-finals this year.

After his victory over top seed Federer, Soderling was hoping to become the eighth different player – and the third at Roland Garros - in the Open Era to defeat the top two seeds en route to a Grand Slam title.

“I have to congratulate Rafa for his fifth victory here, it’s really impressive and if he continues to play like this he will have a chance to win many more,” said Soderling, who was bidding to become the first Swedish champion at Roland Garros since Mats Wilander in 1988. “I will come back next year and hope it will be third time lucky.

"Losing a final in a Grand Slam is not great. It's not a great feeling. But I wasn't close in any one of them. I lost straight sets last year and the same this year. It's always tougher if you lose a really, really close match."

The 25-year-old Soderling, a winner in Rotterdam earlier in the season, will now rise to a career-high No. 6 in the South African Airways 2010 ATP Rankings on Monday.  

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