Tennis - Red hot Nadal powers to Olympic gold

BEIJING Sun Aug 17, 2008 2:39pm EDT

Gold medallist Rafael Nadal of Spain celebrates on the podium during the medal ceremony after the men's singles  tennis competition at the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games August 17, 2008. REUTERS/Toby Melville

Gold medallist Rafael Nadal of Spain celebrates on the podium during the medal ceremony after the men's singles tennis competition at the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games August 17, 2008.

Credit: Reuters/Toby Melville

BEIJING (Reuters) - Rafael Nadal powered to a 6-3 7-6 6-3 victory over Chile's Fernando Gonzalez in the Olympic men's singles final on Sunday to nail a hatrick of major titles.

In a year when he has written his name in the record books he became the first Spanish tennis player to win a gold medal at an Olympic tournament.

"Everything feels different," Nadal, who has won the French Open and Wimbledon titles this year and on Monday will overtake Roger Federer as the world number one, told reporters.

"I've won this for a lot of people, not just me. In tennis, grand slams are a little bit more important but for a sportsman the Olympic Games are more important than anything."

Nadal was red hot in the first set but got lucky in the second when Gonzalez, who stood toe-to-toe with the 22-year-old, fluffed an easy backhand volley on set point.

The ruthless Nadal needed no second invitation and moved in for the kill as Gonzalez began to buckle under the strain.

Gonzalez gamely hung on at 2-5 in the third set, saving three match points, but it was only delaying the inevitable and Nadal converted his fourth chance in the next game.

The 28-year-old Gonzalez now has the full set of Olympic medals after his doubles victory in Athens four years ago, when he also took bronze in singles.

Who knows what might have happened if, after matching Nadal shot for shot in a superb second set, he had made the volley he missed on set point at 6-5.

"I was expecting the pass on the other side," he told reporters. "I'm a bit sad, when you get to the final you want the best (medal).

Serbia's Novak Djokovic completed the podium after beating American James Blake in the bronze medal match.

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