By Jane Voigt
In the midst of Paris protesters and a persistent drizzle, Rafael Nadal swung away impervious to distractions. He had returned to center court of a Major for the first time since his humiliating loss in the early rounds of last year’s Wimbledon.
Today, Nadal would not hide in shame or allow his mind to swim in prior setbacks.
Today, he would right himself and raise himself above all other men of the game by winning his 8th, and unprecedented, men’s singles title at Roland Garros. No one man holds more Major titles from a single tournament.
The litany of records for the Spaniard is long. His victory on Court Philippe Chatrier was well deserved, just as it would have been if his friend and opponent, David Ferrer, had been able to turn the tables on a destiny no one has altered in eight of the last nine years.
With Nadal’s victory — 63 62 63 — he became the only man to have 59 match wins at Roland Garros, passing Roger Federer, Guillermo Vilas, and Nicolas Pietrangeli. Additionally, Nadal’s record 59th brings with it a solitary quarterfinal defeat (59-1) from Robin Soderling in 2009. The next year, Soderling lost to Nadal in the final. The record books never to have been touched in red, since.
“This is very special one,” Nadal said, as reported ESPN.go.com. “When you have a period of time like I had, you realize that you don’t know if you will have the chance to be back here with this trophy another time.” Nadal lost seven months on tour due to a persistent right knee injury.
Nadal has now tied Roy Emerson with 12 Major titles, following Roger Federer with 17 and Pete Sampras with 14.
The rightful King of Clay leaves the City of Lights with a stellar 82-1 record in best-of-five matches on clay. For the year, he has reached the final of all 9 tournaments he entered, winning seven.
“Merci beaucoup, tous la monde,” Nadal told fans packed inside center court, his eyes averted for much of his speech.
No one can argue now against his brilliance on the terre battue of Paris. He has nothing left to prove, although he had nothing to prove before one ball was struck this gray cool afternoon.
To supplant Nadal’s defeat of Novak Djokovic as the ‘real’ final, although it was a semifinal, is incorrect. That match came in round six, not round seven which completes the slam. Many, though, have jumped on that bandwagon. It’s harder to look away from Nadal’s and Djokovic’s match struggle, too, especially when we heard that Bjorn Borg said it was the best clay court match he had ever seen.
But for Nadal the semifinal was not the finish line. In his pre-final press conference he downplayed the projection of a preordained victory. “I’m not the favorite,” he said emphatically.
His Uncle Toni, and life-long coach, taught Nadal early that humility is an honorable character trait worth fine-tuning. To announce he is ‘not the favorite’ reinforced Nadal’s good upbringing and his own need to remain in control and maintain what he calls, ‘his calm.’ All other realms of his life are out of his hands, managed by family and relatives.
Early this year, too, Nadal left IMG and formed Dawn his own company ‘to manage athletes and organize events with his long-term agent, Carlos Costa,’ Dawn.com reported. This reorganization should make Rafa feel even more in control of his tennis.
David Ferrer, appearing in his first Major final at the age of 31, is also a humble man of Spain. One of the first things he said, after defeating Jo-Wilfred Tsonga in the semifinal, was, “Oh no, now I have to play Rafa.”
The last time Ferrer beat Nadal was 2007. Their overall head-to-head is 20-4, and 17-1 on clay. The predictions that Ferrer would not win one set were well founded, although the tennis world wanted to believe chances were there. Ferrer is well liked on and off the courts.
“Match against Ferrer is always difficult,” Nadal told the press, showing off his charm and respect for the #2 Spanish player, long-time Davis Cup supporter, and the only man to reach the final without dropping a set.
Ferrer showed his iconic grit, resolve and speed but only capitalized on three out of twelve opportunities. His wide serve, answered by a weak return from Nadal, set up several inside-out winners. He just didn’t use that pattern enough, or couldn’t. Ferrer did not appear nervous. He was broken in his first service game and immediately broke back to even things out. Basically, he was out witted, run and played. “Rafa is the best, no,” being one of Ferrer’s repeating comments about his friend.
At the end of the second set protesters that sat in the upper reaches of the stadium brought the match to a halt. They raised anti gay marriage signs, a topic that has aroused emotions in Paris this week. Minutes later two men that sat a couple rows behind the chair umpire sprang from their seats, one igniting a flare. He was quickly restrained and wrestled to the ground near the tunnel where players enter and exit. After the flare was extinguished smoke filled the air.
Initially, Nadal ran toward the tunnel perhaps expecting to escape before more fireworks. Twitter went aghast at the scene. People wondered how a flare could have been carried in the stadium. One journalist was miffed because he was not allowed to bring a cup of coffee to his seat.
Both Nadal and Ferrer are fine, although Nadal felt scared at first. “I felt a little bit scared at first because I didn’t see what was going on,” reported ESPN.go.com.
The incident evoked memories of 1993 when Monica Seles was stabbed during a quarterfinal match by Gunter Parche. He was acquitted of all charges and served no time. Seles did not return to the tour for two years. In 2009, a man dressed in a cape rushed Roger Federer. Security reached them before the man did any harm. Federer went on to win his only French Open title to date.
Although the scare ruffled everyone, both players resumed play within minutes.
ESPN reported that Ferrer remained focused, “Strange things happen on the court. But, no, I didn’t lost my focus.”
Congratulations to Rafael Nadal on his 8th French Open title.
And congratulations to Serena Williams on her title and 16th Major. She is the oldest woman — 31 — in the Open Era to have won a Major. Americans Mike and Bob Bryan defeated the all-French team of Nicolas Mahut and Michael Llodra, notching their 14th Grand Slam. In women’s doubles, the unseeded team of Elena Vesnina and Ekaterina Makarova defeated defending champions Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci. They were trying to win their third consecutive title.