Roger Federer congratulates ‘greatest rival’ Rafael Nadal for equalling Grand Slam record as Spaniard wins 13th French Open
Rafael Nadal has won a record-equalling 20th Grand Slam as he swatted aside world No.1 Novak Djokovic in the men’s singles French Open final – winning 6-0 6-2 7-5.
The Spaniard has tasted success in the other three majors in his career, winning the Australian Open once, Wimbledon twice and the US Open four times.
However, Roland Garros is where Nadal is at his imperious best and his ability to produce such a performance against a man who had not lost a completed match all season was breath-taking.
Nadal hit 31 winners and made only 14 unforced errors, leaving Djokovic, who had been hoping to become the first man in the Open era to lift every slam trophy at least twice, unable to find any answers.
The third set was at least competitive, and ensured Djokovic avoided his worst ever slam defeat, but this was unquestionably Nadal’s day.
Having started the tournament by saying the cool and damp autumnal conditions, coupled with heavier balls, would make this the most difficult French Open to win for him, Nadal has ended it without losing a set.
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The conditions had been expected to favour Djokovic, particularly when rain just before the start prompted organisers to shut the roof, and all the indications were this would be one of their lung-busting, play-to-a-standstill epics.
But, rather like last year’s Australian Open final, when Djokovic crushed Nadal, this was a virtuoso performance by a man on the stage he has made his own.
The tone was set in the opening game of the match when Nadal broke from 40-15, Djokovic immediately turning to the drop shot and paying the price.
But the Serbian’s biggest Achilles heel was his serve, and his failure to land more than 42 per cent of his first delivery contributed to the love set he was forced to digest.
Nadal was virtually flawless – serving accurately, defending superbly, unleashing his big weapons at the right moments and choosing his shots with impeccable judgment.
It was only the second love set in 56 matches between them and just the second for Djokovic at a slam since he was a fresh-faced 18-year-old.
Djokovic finally got on the board in the first game of the second set after saving three more break points but he could do nothing to change the momentum of the match.
By the time he won another game, Nadal was on the brink of taking a two-set lead, which he duly did at the next opportunity.
Djokovic, whose game is built on precision, felt forced to go for bigger shots closer and closer to the lines and paid the price with a slew of costly errors.
But there were signs early in the third set that Nadal was dropping slightly from the stratosphere he had been occupying and, although Djokovic played a poor game to be broken for 3-2, he finally landed a blow against his opponent’s serve in the next game.
With that came a huge roar – the first real sign of emotion from a player who has admitted that to perform at his best he needs to wear his heart on his sleeve.
Was that a legacy from his disqualification in New York for hitting a line judge with a ball or just an acceptance that, on this day in this arena, he did not have what it takes?
The break was the chink of light he needed, though, and there was more fire about Djokovic as he set about trying to turn the match around.
He saved a break point at 4-4 but a double fault on another one at 5-5 left Nadal serving for the title, and he clinched it with an ace.
Nadal’s latest victory prompted a congratulatory message from Federer, who he now shares the all-time Grand Slam record with.
Federer posted on social media: “I have always had the utmost respect for my friend Rafa as a person and as a champion.
“As my greatest rival over many years, I believe we have pushed each other to become better players. Therefore, it is a true honour for me to congratulate him on his 20th Grand Slam victory.
“It is especially amazing that he has now won Roland Garros an incredible 13 times, which is one of the greatest achievements in sport.
“I also congratulate his team, because no one can do this alone. I hope 20 is just another step in the continuing journey for both of us. Well done Rafa, you deserve it.”