French Open 2013: The king of clay returns as scintillating Rafael Nadal swats aside compatriot David Ferrer

Spaniard caps comeback from knee injury with win over Ferrer to claim French Open title No 8

On a day when not even a court- invading protester could get close to Rafael Nadal, the 27-year-old Spaniard sealed his place in history as the greatest clay-court player of all time. A 6-3, 6-2, 6-3 victory here over David Ferrer in the final of the French Open saw Nadal become the first man ever to win the same Grand Slam title eight times and took his astonishing record at Roland Garros to 59 victories – more than any other player – from 60 matches.

The bare statistics, nevertheless, barely do justice to Nadal's achievement. Only four months ago there were serious doubts as to whether he could ever rescale his former heights, but after a seven-month absence following the latest in a series of injury crises with his knees he has made a comeback beyond his wildest dreams. Of the nine tournaments Nadal has played since he began his return at a minor event in Chile in February, he has won seven and finished runner-up in the other two.

Nadal is a player who respects every tournament in which he competes, but this was clearly the prize he sought above all others. Last year the Spaniard took himself clear of Bjorn Borg's record of six French Open triumphs, while this latest victory established him as the second-youngest player – behind Roger Federer – ever to win 12 Grand Slam titles. Only Federer and Pete Sampras, with 17 and 14 Grand Slam titles respectively, have won more than Nadal, who has moved equal with Roy Emerson on the all-time list.

Although he refused to elevate this victory above any of his other Grand Slam triumphs, Nadal admitted it was special. "Five months ago nobody in my team dreamt of a comeback like this," he said. "They thought it was impossible. But here we are today. It is just fantastic and incredible."

He added: "When you have a period of time out of the game like I had, you don't know whether you will ever have the chance to come back, so that makes this very special."

As a final, the match was a bit of a damp squib, the only major fireworks arriving towards the end of the second set, when a protester campaigning against same-sex marriage legislation in France invaded the court carrying a flare. Four years ago security staff were slow off the mark when a court invader tried to put a hat on Federer's head during his final against Robin Soderling. This time a security guard tackled the invader well before he could get to Nadal, who admitted later that he had been scared for a moment but praised the staff for their speed.

After one of the coldest French Opens in living memory it was fitting that much of the final was played in drizzle or light rain on another chilly afternoon. There was one short delay when the rain got heavier, but nothing was going to stop Nadal's march on history.

Ferrer, playing in his first Grand Slam final at the age of 31, had lost to his fellow Spaniard in 15 of their last 16 meetings. The world No 4 is never one to throw in the towel, but there were indications that he never truly believed he had a chance. As he tried to force the pace Ferrer made 35 unforced errors and five double-faults, some at crucial moments.

Although Ferrer held to love in the opening game and broke back immediately after dropping his serve in the third, Nadal took charge midway through the first set. A winning backhand cross-court pass saw the king of clay break to lead 4-3 and another break two games later gave him the first set after 40 minutes.

By the time he had gone 3-0 up in the second set the defending champion was firmly into his stride. When Nadal won a thrilling 29-stroke rally with another backhand cross-court pass two games later, the look of despair on Ferrer's face told its own story. Two points later Nadal was 4-1 ahead after a superb backhand winner down the line.

Ferrer broke back to trail 5-2, but the following game summed up his day. Pressing too hard, he served two double-faults to go 0-40 down and then blazed a forehand wide on the first set point.

Early breaks were exchanged in the third set before Ferrer dropped serve for the eighth and last time to trail 5-3, hitting another double-fault on break point. Nadal needed only one match point in the following game, wrong-footing his opponent with an inside-out forehand before falling on his back in celebration after two hours and 16 minutes.

Ferrer, who thought the heavy conditions had been to his disadvantage, paid tribute to his fellow countryman. "I think he has the best mentality I've ever seen in my career," Ferrer said. "He has everything. He can play aggressively, he has good hands at the net and physically he's unbelievable. He played five sets two days ago and today he played just as well."

After giving his all during the clay-court season, it is no surprise that Nadal has pulled out of this week's grass-court tournament at Halle in Germany, which was to have been his only warm-up event before Wimbledon, which starts in a fortnight's time.

Bizarrely enough, Nadal will drop a place in the world rankings today, with Ferrer replacing him as world No 4. Nadal is also set to be seeded No 5 at Wimbledon – the men's seedings there follow the world rankings with a small adjustment for past results on grass – which could mean that three of the game's big four players will find themselves in the same half of the draw. Andy Murray, for example, could have to beat Novak Djokovic, Nadal and Federer to win the title – or he might have to beat only one of them.

It remains to be seen how much this effort will have taken out of Nadal by the time Wimbledon comes. He said he was happy with the way his knees had held up, particularly after his marathon victory over Djokovic on Friday, but would have to take time to assess his fitness for the challenges ahead.

However, such thoughts are for another day. For now it is time to celebrate the achievements of a player firmly established as one of the sport's all-time greats.

 

Get Adobe Flash player

 



News
i100 In this video, the late actor Leonard Nimoy explains how he decided to use the gesture for his character
Arts and Entertainment
Secrets of JK Rowling's Harry Potter workings have been revealed in a new bibliography
arts + ents
News
Robert De Niro has walked off the set of Edge of Darkness
news The Godfather Part II actor has an estimated wealth of over $200m
Arts and Entertainment
Fearne Cotton is leaving Radio 1 after a decade
radio The popular DJ is leaving for 'family and new adventures'
Sport
Robbie Savage will not face a driving ban
football'Mr Marmite' faced the possibility of a 28-day ban
Voices
voices
Life and Style
Nearly half of all young people in middle and high income countries were putting themselves at risk of tinnitus and, in extreme cases, irreversible hearing loss
health
News
It was only when he left his post Tony Blair's director of communications that Alastair Campbell has published books
people The most notorious spin doctor in UK politics has reinvented himself
Life and Style
The new model would be a “pedal assist” bike in which the rider’s strength is augmented by the engine on hills and when they want to go fast
tech
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Life and Style
fashion
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in ‘I Am Michael’
filmJustin Kelly's latest film tells the story of a man who 'healed' his homosexuality and turned to God
News
i100
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower