PARIS – Rafael Nadal climbed back on top of world tennis on Sunday after claiming his fifth Roland Garros title, outplaying Robin Soderling to secure a 6-4, 6-2, 6-4 victory in Paris.
The 24-year-old Spaniard was at his clinical best against the Swede, avenging his defeat to Soderling in the fourth round of the French Open last year, which remains his only ever loss on the Parisian clay.
Nadal, who won the title without losing a set for the second time in three years, will reclaim the number one ranking he lost almost a year ago on Monday, preventing Roger Federer from surpassing Pete Sampras’ record of 286 weeks at the top. Federer has been No. 1 for 285 weeks.
“This is one of the most important wins of my career because I had a difficult year, and for some moments was difficult to accept the injuries and everything,” said Nadal, whose bad memories of 2009 include not only the early exit in Paris, but also the separation of his parents and a knee injury that contributed to his slump.
“For moments you don’t know if you are ready to compete, if you are 100%. So all these moments are difficult to accept. I was there all the time, and for that reason, today is a very, very special day for me.”
Nadal won seven consecutive games midway through the match and held every service game, saving all eight break points he faced.
He became the second man to win the French Open at least five times, and next year he’ll have a chance to match Bjorn Borg’s record of six titles.
The victory ended Nadal’s longest Grand Slam drought since winning his first major title at Roland Garros in 2005. His last Grand Slam title before Sunday’s victory was at the 2009 Australian Open.
When Soderling’s final shot landed in the net, Nadal slid onto his back, threw up his fists and rose, shaking from his hair the clay he loves. When he sat down, he began to cry.
“All tournaments I win give me huge satisfaction, but winning a Grand Slam tournament here in Paris is the best because I lost last year as I was not well prepared and I had very low morale as well,” Nadal said.
“But this time I’m back. I’m back and I win. Maybe this is the tournament I most wanted to win.”
The weather was mild and mostly cloudy – a nice day to go running, and Nadal did plenty of it. Playing farther behind the baseline than in their match last year, he skidded across the clay and lunged to dig shots out of the corners, repeatedly extending points until Soderling finally misfired.
The big-swinging Soderling tried to win points quickly and sometimes did, but most of the long rallies went Nadal’s way.
Before the first set ended, the Swede was panting between points.
Both players looked on their game at the start of the encounter, with Nadal saving the first break point of the match in the fourth game to tie the score at 2-2.
A stunning backhand winner in the subsequent game gave the Spaniard the crucial breakthrough and he would only go from strength to strength after that.
He saved more break points in the seventh game and went on to clinch the set three games later after Soderling sent a forehand wide.
The Swede missed a golden opportunity to get back into the match when he squandered break points in the second game of the second set, one of them after an incredible effort by Nadal.
The Spaniard retrieved shots from both corners and punched back a slam from Soderling, then charged forward and hit a deft drop volley for a winner. Fans roared and Nadal threw an uppercut accompanied by a leg kick.
Another eye-popping sequence came three games later. Nadal slid into the corner beyond the doubles service line to hit a forehand winner that left Soderling shaking his head.
On the next point, Nadal raced to the other side and yanked a lunging backhand cross-court for another winner.
Those points helped Nadal break at love for a 3-2 lead, the first of
six straight games that gave him firm control. He managed three
consecutive service breaks, and by the time Soderling finally held to
stop the skid, he trailed 2-1 in the final set.
By that stage it was clear there would only be one winner and Nadal’s
emotions were on show for all to see as the victory was secured.
“Relief and joy,” Nadal answered when asked what he felt as he cried with joy.
“It’s a huge pleasure for me to be here in Paris. I am in Paris. I won
in Paris. I’m very lucky, and I was very fortunate in life to have had
the opportunity of experiencing all this at the age of 24. Never in my
wildest dreams would I have dreamt of such beautiful presents. Life was
very kind to me.”