Rafa Joins Ranks of Roland Garros Royalty
by ATP Staff|
Rafael Nadal entrenched himself as one of the game's all-time greatest clay court players after defeating Roger Federer 6-3, 4-6, 6-3, 6-4 to win a third consecutive Roland Garros title in Paris Sunday. The 21-year-old Spaniard joins Bjorn Borg as the only players to win three straight titles since Roland Garros was opened to players of all nations in 1925.
Nadal improved his perfect Roland Garros record to 21-0 and his career record in best-of-five-set format matches on clay to 34-0.
For the second consecutive year Federer was denied a career Grand Slam by Nadal in a four-set Roland Garros final. The ATP World No. 1, who was contesting his eighth consecutive Grand Slam final, was chasing his 11th title from the past 16 Grand Slam tournaments.
Nadal clinched his third Grand Slam title in just his 13th Grand Slam tournament. Only Jimmy Connors and John McEnroe (12 majors) claimed their third Grand Slam tournament from fewer Grand Slam outings.
During his Roland Garros dominance over the past three years, Nadal has won 63 of 70 sets. He did not drop a set this year en route to the final.
Nadal's record in finals improved to a stunning 22-4 and his career clay court record moved to 128-13.
THE FINAL: BLOW-BY-BLOW
The first set was defined by Federer's inability to convert any of the 10 break point opportunities he earned. The Swiss squandered two break points in the fourth game, five in the sixth game and then three at 0/40 in the eighth game when Nadal reeled off five consecutive points.
After failing to convert the five break point chances in the sixth game, a frustrated Federer was broken to love. Up to that point, despite putting just four of his first 16 points into play, Federer had not faced a break point.
Federer's confidence appeared shaken. Earlier in the set he had taken the fight to Nadal, returning aggressively on his backhand in an attempt to seize the early initiative in points to reduce Nadal's ability to hit his signature high kicking forehands to his backhand.
Nadal again had the momentum in the second set but after saving one break point in the fourth game, Federer became re-energized. He stepped into the court to hit more penetrating groundstrokes, made more forays to the net and put more first serves into play.
In the seventh game Federer won both net approaches he made and finally clinched his first (and only) break of the match on his 12th break point opportunities. The Swiss then saved three break points in the next game to go ahead 5-3 before Nadal saved four set points in the ninth game, which forced Federer to serve out the set.
If Nadal felt any pressure after Federer leveled the match at one set all, he didn't show it. The Spaniard broke Federer's first service game and raced to a 3-0 lead as Federer paid the price for tentative net approaches.
Although Federer's first serve percentage improved, he made a string of costly unforced errors and was never able to turn up the heat on Nadal, whose game plan again revolved around hitting high-kicking forehands into Federer's backhand.
Nadal broke open the match early in the fourth set. After saving one break point in his first service game by winning a 23-point rally, Nadal broke serve in the third game, helped in part by his effort to chase down a drop shot after starting his run from deep behind the baseline.
In all, Nadal saved 16 of 17 break point chances he faced in the match, making his first serve on 14 of those 17 points.
Federer was hindered by 62 unforced errors throughout the match (to Nadal's 35), including 34 on his forehand, normally considered the best in the game. Federer's error rate and mis-hits spiked in the final set when his return game declined.
LAST NINE GRAND SLAM CHAMPIONS
Federer and Nadal have accounted for the last nine Grand Slam titles since 2005 Roland Garros:
2007 Roland Garros Rafael Nadal d. Roger Federer
2007 Australian Open Roger Federer d. Fernando Gonzalez
2006 US Open Roger Federer d. Andy Roddick
2006 Wimbledon Roger Federer d. Rafael Nadal
2006 Roland Garros Rafael Nadal d. Roger Federer
2006 Australian Open Roger Federer d. Marcos Baghdatis
2005 US Open Roger Federer d. Andre Agassi
2005 Wimbledon Roger Federer d. Andy Roddick
2005 Roland Garros Rafael Nadal d. Mariano Puerta
WHAT THE PLAYERS SAID
Nadal: "For me to have three Grand Slams is a dream. Well, when I am started the season in Australia, I was playing not very well. And I can't imagine something like this at this moment, no, so winning five titles and three Masters Series, and this one.
"I feel better player this year than last year. I am more -- I think I am a little bit more complete.
Comparing his three Roland Garros wins: "Always different feeling, different situations, because it's not the same moment of your career. So first year was very emotional because it was the first. Second year was very emotional because I come back after injury. And this year, I am very happy because I play my best tennis here.
"Three titles in a row. You have this pressure, this dream about winning, so you have more pressure.
Keys to the match: "It was very important, the break points in the first sets and at the beginning of the third. He'd won the second set, and I wanted to make a difference immediately at the beginning of the third set."
Federer: "I couldn't really impose my game like I wanted to. I tried to make the game happen with my forehand but he didn't allow me to do that too well today."
On his failure to convert more break points: "Rafael is tough on break points. He's the toughest guy on clay. So I knew that I would have to take my chances. There is one way to create chances, but then you have to convert them, too. But I couldn't get them done in the first set, especially, and then that maybe in the long run hurt me.
"I came back, and played okay in the second set, but had a bad start again in the third set, which kind of killed it for me. But, after that, he served better, made less unforced errors, and I couldn't really play the way I wanted from the baseline. So it was tough, but I think he played an excellent match and deserved to win in the end."
On the disappointment of losing and his future chances of winning Roland Garros: "The same thing happened last year. I would have had not many other goals to chase in my career. Like this, it always stays open. And eventually, if I get it, the sweeter it's going to taste.
So hopefully, I'll give myself more and more opportunities, over and over again. I know I can do it now, that's for sure. After playing three very good French Opens, you know, the last three years, Rafa came along and took them all. So it's kind of Rafa and me."