PARIS (Reuters) - One man’s despair was another man’s ecstasy as the most inopportune of double faults propelled a world-beating Rafa Nadal into a nine-times French Open champion on Sunday.
Waiting to launch into a second serve on match point down, a yell from the stands, followed by another, left a distracted Novak Djokovic to fire down the most costly of double faults and see his hopes of completing a career grand slam pounded into the red dust.
While Djokovic was left utterly dejected and with a strange sense of deja vu, having also surrendered the 2012 final with a double fault, he could only watch on in wonder as Nadal sunk to his knees in triumph following a 3-6 7-5 6-2 6-4 victory.
“In matches like this every moment is crucial. Playing against Novak is always a big challenge as I had lost against him the last four times,” Nadal told the crowd before being handed over the trophy by Swedish great Bjorn Borg.
“For me it’s amazing and emotional, I lost the final at Australia this year where I had a problem with my back and that was a hard moment. Today tennis gave back to me what happened in Australia.”
Overcome with the emotion of cradling the Musketeers’ Cup for a record-extending ninth time, the world number one burst into tears.
His win was also accompanied by a deluge of eye-watering statistics.
He became the first man to win five successive Roland Garros titles.
His record in French Open finals stands at 9-0.
He has won a record 35 successive matches at the claycourt major.
He has won 90 of his 91 best-of-five-set matches on clay.
He owns a 66-1 win-loss record at Roland Garros.
Over the years grand slam champions in the caliber of Roger Federer, Djokovic, Andy Murray, Lleyton Hewitt, Juan Martin del Potro and Carlos Moya have all tried - and failed miserably - to conquer the claycourt phenomenon at a tournament one person suggested should now be renamed “Nadal Garros”.
Djokovic, who had come off second best to Nadal in five previous Parisian tussles, did not even come close to ending that losing run on Sunday.
“It was a very emotional day and I gave everything. The trophy was a bit too far out of reach this year but I will come back again and again until I win it,” a teary-eyed Djokovic told the crowd after being given a prolonged standing ovation by 15,000 hollering fans.
It seems there is nothing that Nadal cannot control at his beloved Roland Garros.
He had stated 48 hours earlier that he “cannot command the sun” but after Sunday’s forecast of thunderstorms failed to materialize, it seems that the Spaniard’s powers of persuasion also stretch to the weather Gods.
The hot weather meant the left-hander could count on his forehand being “very fast and very powerful” which in turn would allow to him add an extra zing to his already fearsome topspin.
Despite the conditions being to his liking, Nadal was strangely flat and restless for a set and a half and raised hopes in the Djokovic camp, which included coach Boris Becker, that perhaps his day of reckoning had come.
The world number one scorched those aspirations when he fired a blazing forehand winner to break and take the second set 7-5.
It left Nadal roaring into the skies and the crowd jumping to their feet in the hope that the duo who have battled through numerous five-set thrillers would turn their 42nd meeting into another heart-pumping display of skill and endurance.
It was not to be.
Djokovic was left feeling the heat, literally, as he slumped 0-3 down in the third and appeared dazed and confused for a second when he slid off his chair during the changeover.
Dousing his head and arms with cold water and wrapping an iced towel around his neck allowed the Serbian second seed to get back on his feet but four games later his anger boiled over.
Following a backhand error, he slammed his racket so hard it lifted off the ground and spun around 13 times before dropping back down to the red earth again.
But wondrous shots, and not acts of petulance, win matches and it was from only one man’s racket such balls were flying off.
A looping forehand long from Djokovic on break point down handed Nadal the third set and from then on there was a sense of doom circling over the Djokovic camp.
“Luckily for me it was over in four sets because after that it was heart attack for me,” the champion’s coach and uncle Toni Nadal said after his nephew took his overall grand slam tally to 14.
“He told me when he took me in his arms to call the doctor because he had cramps in his calf. We were lucky it ended in four sets.”
There was nothing lucky about Djokovic’s day.
A double fault on match point summed up the type of afternoon it had been for a man playing in what turned out to be an unlucky 13th grand slam final.
Having declared before the final that “Nadal’s not unbeatable” Djokovic was asked if he was any closer to working out how to beat the claycourt king on his favorite stomping ground.
“If I was left hander maybe I would win the tournament,” he quipped.
Editing by Josh Reich