PARIS -- Accustomed to being on the move, Rafael Nadal sat restlessly during a changeover one game from his fifth French Open title.
He jiggled his legs, took two bites of a banana, toweled off his
arms and face, then rose and finished the job. Soon he was back in
the chair and sobbing into the towel, overcome with the emotion
that accompanied his accomplishment.
The relentless Spaniard reclaimed his crown Sunday as the King
of Clay, avenging his lone Roland Garros defeat by beating Robin
Soderling 6-4, 6-2, 6-4.
"It's the most emotional day in my career," Nadal told the
crowd in French during the trophy ceremony.
His bad memories of 2009 included not only an upset loss to
Soderling at Roland Garros, but the separation of his parents and
knee tendinitis that contributed to a prolonged slump.
The victory ended his longest Grand Slam drought since winning
his first major title at Roland Garros in 2005.
Seeded No. 2, Nadal won with dogged defense, chasing down shots
all over the court. He swept seven consecutive games midway through
the match and held every serve, saving all eight break points he
Nadal improved to 38-1 at Roland Garros, with the only loss to
Soderling in the fourth round a year ago.
"I played my best match against you," Nadal told the
big-swinging Swede during the trophy ceremony. "If not, it's going
to be impossible to beat you."
Nadal 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.
"It's really impressive," Soderling told Nadal. "If you
continue like this, you will sure have the chance to win many
With the victory, Nadal will also reclaim the No. 1 ranking
Monday, supplanting Roger Federer.
Soderling, who has yet to win a major title, finished as the
runner-up for the second year in a row. In 2009 he lost in the
final to Federer.
"I love this tournament," he said. "I will come back next
year, and I hope I'll be third time lucky then."
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.
"I faced in the final an extremely tough opponent," Nadal
said. "We played at a high level. Now I'm very happy."
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.
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.
To compound Soderling's woes, he had an off day with his serve,
his biggest weapon. He totaled only seven aces, the same number
Nadal. For the other six rounds, Soderling had 75 aces, Nadal 12.
Nadal's march to his seventh Grand Slam title was deliberate
only between points. Advised by the chair umpire he was taking too
much time with his methodical ritual before serving, Nadal
responded, "Thank you," and slightly picked up the pace.
Nadal's persistence paid off big early in the second set. Facing
a break point, he retrieved shots from both corners and punched
back a Soderling slam, then charged forward and hit a deft drop
volley for a winner. The stadium shook with a roar, 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
crosscourt for another winner.
Those points helped Nadal break at love for a 3-2 lead, during
the run that allowed him to take 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.
With Nadal covering so much ground, Soderling sometimes rushed
shots or aimed too close to the line. He finished with 45 unforced
errors to 16 for Nadal.
Even the points Nadal lost took a toll on his opponent, who was
coming off a grueling five-set win over Tomas Berdych in the
semifinals. The Swede, who was seeded fifth and upset Federer in
the quarterfinals, again came up short in his 26th Grand Slam
The first service break came in the fifth game when Nadal
cracked a thunderous backhand for a winner, and he served out the
set. That essentially decided the match: He's now 95-1 at Grand
Slam tournaments when he wins the opening set.
Nadal improved to 22-0 this year on clay and now switches to
grass, where he'll seek a second Wimbledon title after missing last
year's tournament because of his knee trouble.
For the second time in three years, Nadal won all 21 sets en
route to the Roland Garros championship. Only two other men in the
Open era have won the title without losing a set, Borg and Ilie
Nadal Beats Soderling for 5th French Open Title
Nadal celebrates his 5th French Open win. (Associated Press)
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