Rain or shine, clay or mud, Sunday or Monday, Rafael Nadal rules Roland Garros.
The man they call “Rafa” won his record seventh French Open title yesterday, returning a day after getting rained off to put the finishing touches on a 6-4, 6-3, 2-6, 7-5 victory over Novak Djokovic.
He also denied Djokovic his own run at history — the quest for the “Novak Slam.”
The match ended on a Djokovic double fault, a fittingly awkward conclusion to a final that had plenty of stops and starts, including a brief delay during the fourth set yesterday while — what else — a rain shower passed over the stadium.
They waited it out and second-seeded Nadal wound up as he has for seven of the past eight years — down on the ground, celebrating a title at a place that feels like a home away from home for the Spaniard.
He broke the record he shared with Bjorn Borg, improved to 52-1 at the French Open and he beat the man who had defeated him in the last three Grand Slam finals.
“This tournament is, for me, the most special tournament of the world,” Nadal said.
After serving his fourth double fault of the match, top seed Djokovic dropped his head and slumped his shoulders, an emotional two-day adventure complete, and not with the result he wanted.
He was trying to become the first man since Rod Laver, 43 years ago, to win four straight major titles. He came up short and joined Roger Federer, who twice came up one match short of four in a row — his pursuit also halted by Nadal at Roland Garros in 2006 and 2007.
“It was a very difficult match against the best player in the world,” Nadal said. “I lost three Grand Slam finals — Wimbledon, the US Open last year, and the Australian Open this year. I’m very happy, very emotional.”
Nadal won his 11th overall Grand Slam title, tying him with Borg and Laver on the all-time list. Next up on Nadal’s list: Chris Evert.
Yes, before yesterday, Evert was the only player, man or woman, to win seven titles at Roland Garros.
A match with so much of tennis history riding on it proved awkward and frustrating for both players.
Unable to solve Nadal’s mastery of the clay, Djokovic was throwing rackets around early in the final. A bit later on Sunday, Nadal was complaining bitterly as the rain picked up, the tennis balls got heavy and officials refused to stop the match.
Djokovic rolled through the third set as the rain turned the heavy red clay into more of a muddy paste. He had all the momentum when play was halted, up a break early in the fourth.
The weather cleared well before dusk on Sunday and Djokovic said he was sitting around the changing room, ready to play, but officials decided to call it a washout, setting up the first non-Sunday finish at the French Open since 1973, when Ilie Nastase wrapped up his title on a Tuesday.
When Nadal and Djokovic came back to Roland Garros yesterday under cloudy skies, they shook hands as they passed each other on the practice court. A bit later, the match resumed.
Both the surface on court Phillippe Chartier and the tennis balls had dried out, and Nadal looked more like he usually does — sliding into his stops, spinning his shots, moving Djokovic around, always getting one more ball back.
“I’m not going back, saying it’s your fault and your fault because I lost,” Djokovic said. “It’s unfortunate because I was playing better, feeling better on the court in the third set yesterday. Today, he started strong. I started slower. I was a little bit unfortunate in that first game and things turned around.”