Paris: Rafael Nadal settled things with Robin Soderling for the last year as he beat the Swede to recaptured the French Open crown on Sunday with a thrilling 6-4, 6-2, 6-4 win; a victory that also gave him the world number one spot from Roger Federer.
Nadal was simply too powerful on clay for the Swede who 12 months ago ended the Spaniard’s 31-match, four titles win streak in Paris in stunning fashion with a four sets, fourth round triumph.
The win, Nadal’s fifth here since 2005, put him second on the all-time list of French Open winners, one behind Bjorn Borg whose last title here came in 1981. He is now 38-1 in matches played at Roland Garros.
It was also the second time he had won the French Open title without dropping a set, having first achieved that feat in 2008.
For Soderling it was another cruel finish to the tournament having defeated top seed and title-holder Roger Federer in the quarter-finals. Last year he beat top seed and title-holder Nadal, but lost to Federer in the final.
“I played my best match against you otherwise it would have been impossible to beat you,” Nadal told Soderling on the awards podium.
In reply Soderling said, “If you continue to play like this you will surely have the chance to win many more. I will be back next year and hopefully it will be third time lucky.”
With a morning storm having chased away the sweltering temperatures that marked yesterday’s women’s final, cool, overcast conditions greeted the two men as they stepped out onto the Philippe Chatrier centre court.
Fifth seed Soderling opened confidently with three big serves at around 220 kilometres an hour and it was the Swede who procured the first break point of the match in the third game.
He failed to convert that though, hitting a backhand long and was made to pay the price in the following game.
Soderling was in control of the rally with a second break point against him, but he mistakenly left alone a Nadal crosscourt backhand, thinking it was going out. Instead it dipped at the last second and landed just inside the baseline.
The Swede was going for broke with his sledgehammer forehand, while Nadal was content to soak up the pressure and destabilise his opponent with his high-bouncing, top spin shots down both flanks.
Soderling saved a further break point to close to 3-4 before Nadal also needed to save one in the following game as he stretched his lead to 5-3.
The fifth seed saved three set points from 0-40 down in the following game, but Nadal wrapped up the set in 55 minutes on serve in the following game.
With dark clouds gathering over Roland Garros, Soderling had a total of four break points for a 2-0 lead early in the second set but, despite having Nadal on the ropes on three of those occasions, he failed to take his chances.
Once again the man from Mallorca made him pay a heavy price as he broke the Swede’s serve to love in the fifth game to lead 3-2.
The match was starting to slip away from Soderling and his confidence took another blow when Nadal broke again two games later to lead 5-2. He comfortably served out for a two sets to nil lead.
A relentless front-runner, Nadal scented victory and he moved in for the kill by capturing Soderling’s serve to open the third set.
Soderling’s last glimpse of a chance came when he had break point in the following game, but a big Nadal first serve slammed shut the door.
The Spaniard simply needed to hold serve four times to win the tournament and that he did comfortably before falling onto his back in triumph.
At 24, Nadal had won his seventh Grand Slam title joining the likes of John McEnroe, Mats Wilander and 1920s French legend Rene Lacoste.