Nadal proves the Cassius Clay of tennis
He is the Cassius Clay of slow-court tennis and now Rafael Nadal is shaping up to knock down Novak Djokovic on every other surface after burying his mental demons with a stirring French Open final triumph over the Serbian powerhouse.
After sapping losses to Djokovic in the three previous grand slam finals on grass and hard courts in London, New York and Melbourne, Nadal said he feared a pounding from Djokovic at his Paris fortress may have left him floundered on the canvas.
“If I had lost a fourth final, this would have been really difficult for me,” Nadal admitted after eclipsing Bjorn Borg’s haul of six Roland Garros titles with a nerve-wracking 6-4 6-3 2-6 7-5 victory over the world No.1 that stretched over two days.
“So in my mind this was the final I had to win. This is why there was so much emotion.”
Djokovic had been on the cusp of sporting immortality after denying Nadal at Wimbledon and the US Open last year and then breaking the Spaniard’s heart again in the longest grand slam final in history at the Australian Open in January.
Nadal was up a service break deep in the deciding set of the five-hour, 53-minute Melbourne Park epic and said the physically exhausting defeat was also another psychological hammer blow.
“In Australia, I was not in a very good shape, mentally speaking. I could have won,” he said, after confessing to self-doubts after his Flushing Meadows defeat.
“But for mental reasons, as I had lost, I was probably not in the best mental status.
“Now I’m here, I made it. I did everything I could to win this match. I’m really, really emotional and it’s probably one of the more special moments of my career.”
With so much at stake, the claycourt colossus admitted to being a nervous wreck before play resumed on Monday after Sunday’s rain-forced suspension leading by two sets to one, but down a service break at 1-2 in the fourth.
“Seriously, I was very nervous during all the night,” he said.
“You know, I am playing this match since Friday afternoon, so is a long time preparing the match … and I only felt ready to go on court three minutes before.”
Out of DVDs, he instead sought relief in his favourite Spanish comic books before turning the lights out after midnight.
“I read those three times and I fell asleep,” Nadal said.
The world No.2 only needed 49 minutes to turn the lights out on the top-ranked Djokovic when the suspense-filled final resumed.
Nadal’s unprecedented seventh French Open completed a near-perfect claycourt season – “probably my best” – during which he won 22 out of 22 matches on red dirt, dropping just one set in 53 in the process.
“He’s definitely best player in history on this surface – and results are showing that he’s one of the best-ever players that played this game,” Djokovic said.
“I mean, he’s only 26-years-old. We are very young and we’ve played over 30 times against each other and hopefully we can have many more battles in the next years.”
Nadal is also excited about continuing their heavyweight rivalry for years to come and bristled when asked if he was ready to carry his claycourt form to other surfaces.
“Don’t forget that I played the last five grand slam finals in a row,” he said.
“That’s not a victory, that’s not a title, but that’s fantastic results.”© AAP 2013
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