Moving ever deeper into the conversation about the greatest tennis players of all time, No. 1-ranked Rafael Nadal turned back a stirring challenge from his archrival, Roger Federer, 7-5, 7-6 (3), 5-7, 6-1 at the French Open yesterday for the Spaniard’s record-tying sixth championship in Paris.
Nadal’s 10th Grand Slam title also moved the 25-year-old within six of Federer’s all-time mark and made him 5-0 against the 29-year-old Swiss at Roland Garros (17-8 overall).
“It’s a big personal satisfaction to win this tournament, especially when you start without playing your best,” said Nadal, who needed five sets to win his first-round match but finished by equaling Bjorn Borg’s record French Open haul.
The third-seeded Federer, who was in peak form on Friday for his semifinal victory that ended Novak Djokovic’s 43-match winning streak, earned a set point against Nadal at 5-2. With sharp serving, aggressive return tactics and line-clipping ground strokes — many of them off his sometimes-fickle one-handed backhand — Federer hit 11 of his 53 winners and Nadal dumped six of his 27 unforced errors during that opening stretch in the first set.
But after Federer’s backhand drop shot landed wide, Nadal held serve and reeled off six more games against a more tentative Federer.
“I knew I had it in me, and it was unfortunate I couldn’t make it more competitive in the fourth set,” said Federer, whose 2009 title is the only interruption in Nadal’s run at Roland Garros since 2005. “But Rafa played well and he deserved the win today.”
Federer converted his fifth break point in 15 chances to win the third set, but Nadal raced to victory in just 36 minutes of fourth-set play.
In two weeks, Nadal opens his Wimbledon title defense with a shot at tying Borg again with his 11th major win.