Nadal leads as French Open final suspended

 

Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal will have to come back to Roland Garros tomorrow to complete their French Open final after rain forced play to be abandoned for the day with the Spaniard leading 6-4 6-3 2-6 1-2 in Paris.

Almost all the match had been played in light rain but conditions became increasingly slippery and an angry Nadal had been calling for the match to be suspended for some time before they finally went off just before 7pm.

The 26-year-old, who is bidding for a record seventh title at Roland Garros, looked to be cruising at two sets and a break ahead on the stage he has made his own.

But Djokovic, for whom victory would bring a fourth straight grand slam title and sporting immortality, hit back with a stunning run of eight straight games to lead by a break in the fourth.

There had been a lot of talk about a possible Monday final, so bad was the forecast, but the players took to Court Philippe Chatrier on time, albeit under leaden skies.

Despite being world number one and having beaten Nadal in three successive grand slam finals, Djokovic was a clear underdog and what he definitely did not need was to lose the first three games, including two on his own serve.

Considering Nadal had only been broken once all tournament and had not dropped a set on red clay all year, it already looked a crushing blow, but Djokovic's belief befits a man who has won almost everything there is to win over the past 18 months.

And, helped by some uncharacteristic Nadal errors, back he came, levelling at 3-3, only to give his serve away immediately on a double fault.

The quality was high from both men now despite the drizzle, the ball taking a pounding as they slugged it out in brutal baseline rallies, but Nadal maintained his advantage, clinching the set with a vicious forehand winner.

Djokovic found himself under pressure again at the start of the second set, and for the second time in the match he double-faulted on break point.

He was throwing everything at Nadal and often had the upper hand in rallies but there were also too many unforced errors from the Serb.

Djokovic battled back, though, deceiving his opponent with his third brilliant lob of the match, only to be broken again as Nadal drilled a rapier-like forehand cross-court for 4-3.

There was a loud bang as Djokovic whacked his bench with his racquet, causing splinters to fly across the court and earning whistles from the crowd and a warning.

After one more Nadal hold the rain got too much and the players came off, but they were back on inside half an hour - with a new bench for Djokovic - and it took the second seed only moments to move two sets ahead, a trademark backhand pass earning him a sixth break.

The pair had met three times at Roland Garros before, in 2006, 2007 and 2008, and each time Nadal won in straight sets, so the task facing Djokovic looked almost impossible.

The Spaniard also had the upper hand in recent meetings, having ended a run of seven straight losses to Djokovic by winning in Monte Carlo and then Rome.

The Serb forced a break point at the start of the third set but another huge rally went the way of Nadal, and the end looked nigh when the 26-year-old made it six games in a row.

But Djokovic is too much of a fighter to subside meekly and back he came once more, breaking the Nadal serve not once but twice to lead 3-2.

Suddenly it was Djokovic finding a way to win the long points and remarkably he made it six games in a row to win the set and give himself a chance of a momentous victory.

Nadal used the changeover to complain about the conditions but he did not get his own way, and the first game of the fourth set was another lengthy one marked by an epic 45-shot rally that Djokovic won.

He won the game too, a seventh in a row, with a backhand pass and there was no sign that the change in momentum was about to be reversed.

Focus and concentration is more important to Nadal than any other player and he was becoming flustered by the conditions and his inability to stem the Djokovic tide.

He at least held serve to make it 2-1 and end his eight-game losing streak, and at that point play was again suspended.

Nadal made his feelings known to referee Stefan Fransson, saying the conditions had been the same for an hour, while his coach and uncle, Toni Nadal, was also clearly angry as he disappeared into the locker room, and play was officially called off at 8pm local time.

They are scheduled to resume tomorrow at 1pm, although the forecast is again for rain, and the last time they did not manage to complete the final here on Sunday, in 1973, the match did not finish until Tuesday.

PA

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