Paris: Rafa Nadal racked up a record-equalling sixth French Open title with a four-sets win over great rival Roger Federer on Sunday as his potent powers on clay again proved irresistible.
The 7-5 7-6 5-7 6-1 victory brought him level with Swede Bjorn Borg for Roland Garros men’s singles triumphs while it made sure he would stay as world number one ahead of Serbia’s Novak Djokovic with Wimbledon looming.
“It’s fantastic to win this final against the player who’s certainly the best in the world, the best in history,” said Nadal, who has beaten Federer in six of their eight meetings in grand slam finals, four of them in Paris.
“It’s a very special, outstanding tournament for me. It’s one of my wildest dreams come true.”
Swiss Federer, who was bidding to beat the Spaniard on the Paris clay for the first time in five attempts, made a lightning start and squandered a point to win the first set but was ultimately powerless to stop Nadal’s charge.
“Congratulations to Rafa for having won the tournament once again. He played a super match today,” Federer, whose one Roland Garros title came in 2009 after Nadal was beaten earlier in the tournament by Robin Soderling, said.
The day had started bright and sunny with Swiss fans playing their huge alpine horns in the tree-lined paths of the age-old venue, which will keep the event past 2016 after a redevelopment plan beat rival proposals for a move to the Paris suburbs.
A handful of Nadal supporters, some wearing Spain soccer shirts, were also ready for another classic duel between two of the greatest players the world has ever seen.
A slow start to the two-week tournament by Nadal was long forgotten by the time the two walked out on court to clash in the final after third seed Federer had ended second seed Djokovic’s 41-match winning streak in 2011 in the semis.
Like so many of their epic battles down the years, this was another match full of exhilarating rallies and spellbinding winners but “King of Clay” Nadal deservedly prevailed.
Federer started the encounter with a confident service game and then snatched his opponent’s serve on his fourth opportunity when Nadal surprisingly spun a short forehand into the net.
“Roger, Roger!”, the 15,000 crowd chanted as the 2009 champion comfortably held for 3-0 with two thumping aces.
Looking rattled, Nadal had a blister powdered by the trainer during the changeover at 5-2 down.
Record 16-times grand slam champion Federer came out all guns blazing in the eighth game, eeking out a set point on Nadal’s serve which the Spaniard saved after a Federer drop shot floated marginally into the tramlines.
It proved crucial as Nadal suddenly found his range.
Federer’s first serve let him down when he served for the set at 5-3 and Nadal pounced to break back when Federer netted a volley when his opponent unleashed a forehand on the stretch.
Hitting deeper and deeper, Nadal broke again in the 11th game as Federer’s level dipped and he sealed the first set with a huge crosscourt forehand winner after 62 minutes.
Nadal continued his momentum into the second set to break in the first game and then holding serve to love to move 2-0 up -- a seven-game winning streak that threatened to turn the final into something of an anti-climax.
Federer, who won the last of his grand slam titles at the 2010 Australian Open, broke back for 4-4 when Nadal netted but the Swiss immediately dropped serve when a backhand went wide.
With Nadal on set point rain began to fall for the first time in two weeks and after Federer won the point to bring the score to deuce the rain grew harder and the players went off to the locker room.
After a 10-minute break Nadal came out to earn a second set point but Federer saved it and then broke for 5-5.
Federer held with ease but Nadal responded to set up a tiebreak. With his hopes on the line Federer played a subdued series of points to lose the tiebreaker 7-3.
The 29-year-old Federer clung on in the third set, battling back from 4-2 down and gained the key break for 6-5 as the spark returned to his play and his backhand and drop shots whipped teh crowd into raptures.
When he had 0-40 on the Nadal serve at the start of the fourth set it seemed that an improbable comeback could be possible but Nadal dug deep and refused to allow the Swiss back into the match.
Federer looked jaded as he dropped serve to love in the fourth game with some wafted errors and Nadal showed his ruthless streak to roar to victory.
The Spaniard looked emotional as he carved out match points and when Federer blazed a forehand over the baseline the 25-year-old fell to his knees with his sweat-drenched forehead pressed to his beloved red clay.