THERE were doubts and there was suffering but Rafael Nadal wrote his name in the history books once more with an unprecedented eighth title at the French Open.
The major drama of the final between Nadal and fellow Spaniard David Ferrer came in the second set when a masked protester jumped onto Court Philippe Chatrier carrying a flare.
The tennis was largely predictable as Nadal beat first-time finalist Ferrer 6-3, 6-2, 6-3 to become the first man ever to win eight singles titles at one grand slam.
It was his 12th grand slam title, putting him level with Roy Emerson in third on the all-time list, and his 59th win from 60 matches at Roland Garros, more than any other man.
The most remarkable thing is that Nadal only returned from seven months out with knee problems in February, since when he has won seven titles and lost two finals. The 27-year-old said: “I’m very happy, very emotional, it’s a very important victory for me.
“Five months ago nobody in my team dreamed about a comeback like this because we thought that it was going to be impossible. I am a positive guy. I think always in a positive way. But doubts are part of this life. People who don’t have doubts, it’s because they are so arrogant. Doubts are in everything. Nothing is clear in this world. So for sure I have doubts, but I work as much as I can to be here. I can have doubts, yes, but if I don’t work, it’s sure that I will not be back.”
There was the feeling after Nadal battled for more than four and a half hours to beat world No 1 Novak Djokovic in the semi-finals on Friday that that was the de facto final, and yesterday’s match did nothing to disprove that.
Ferrer fought back well after dropping his serve in the third game but was broken again in the seventh game and Nadal quickly clinched the first set.
Ferrer took just three of his 12 break points in the match, which was never going to be good enough, and it cost him in the second set.
The most dramatic moment
occurred at 5-1 when a bare-chested protester wearing a mask and carrying a flare leapt from the stands onto Court Philippe Chatrier.
He was close to Nadal but was quickly tackled by security staff and wrestled to the ground.
It was part of a co-ordinated protest against gay marriage, which was recently legalised in France.
Nadal lost his concentration momentarily and dropped serve but Ferrer then threw in two double faults and swiftly found himself two sets down.
It had been raining on and off for much of the match, but the weather
deteriorated further in the final set.
It was of no concern to Nadal, though. Ferrer’s last chance came in the seventh game but he did not take it and a double fault on break point then handed his countryman the chance to serve for the title.
Nadal did not waver, clinching victory on his eighth match point with a trademark forehand winner, his 35th of the match.
Ferrer conceded he was simply beaten by the better man and praised his compatriot as the toughest player mentally he has ever seen.
The fourth seed said: “It was 6-3, 6-2, 6-3 but I think the first set and the third one, it was close. Anyway, Rafael was better than me. He served better, he played very aggressive with his forehand, he didn’t make mistakes, he played more regular and consistent than me. Rafael, in important moments, he’s the best. He played very good points always.
“I think he has the best mentality I’ve ever seen in my career. He has everything. He can play aggressive, he has good hands at the net and physically he’s unbelievable. He can play five sets two days ago and today he can play similar tennis.”
In a quirk of the rankings system, Nadal will drop below Ferrer to fifth today and is very likely to be seeded there for Wimbledon. “It’s strange,” he said. “I lost the final against Rafael, but tomorrow I am going to be number four and him number five. I would have preferred to win here and to stay number five.”