Perfect in Paris, Nadal overwhelms Djokovic to tie Federer
PARIS (AP) - All the years of work, all the many victories led to this moment. Rafael Nadal was preparing to play Novak Djokovic, one point from a 13th French Open championship, one point from a 20th Grand Slam trophy, Roger Federer's record for men.
Nadal ran his right foot over the baseline and cleared away the red dust, as he had done so many times before. He tapped the soles of his shoes with his bat - right, then left, then right again. He tossed a tennis ball behind him, another in the pocket of his blue shorts.
And then, finally ready to continue, Nadal delivered an ace at 106 mph to get a flawless performance and a surprisingly one-sided 6-0, 6-2, 7-5 win over Djokovic in 1st place. Nadal fell to his knees, smiled broadly, and pumped with his arms.
Neither Djokovic that day nor Federer really had a chance to resist the relentless Nadal over time.
"He's going on. It doesn't seem like he's holding him back. It's amazing. I mean, I admire all of his successes, especially those here," said Djokovic, who had won his last five Grand Slam finals.
"You can't say much," said Djokovic. "He deserves all the superlatives that you can use."
It's the fourth time the Nadal won their favorite tournament in second place without leaving a set and made their career mark 100-2 at the French Open.
No, that's not a typo.
The 34-year-old left-hander from Spain has won his favorite event four times in a row, having played four times from 2005 to 2008 and five times from 2010 to 2014. These stand alongside four wins at the US Open, two at Wimbledon and one at the Australian Open.
Nadal made it clear that although he was never consumed by the idea of catching Federer, he does appreciate the importance of performance.
“I would like to end my career as a player with more Grand Slams. No doubt no? On the other hand, I say, "OK, I have to do my way." ... I won't think all the time: "Novak (has) this one, Roger wins the other." You can't always be unhappy because your neighbors have a bigger house than you or a bigger boat or a better phone, ”Nadal said.
“In relation to these records, that is of course important to me. I'm a huge fan of sports history in general. I respect that very much, "he continued." It means a lot to me to share this number with Roger, no? "
The 39-year-old Federer prevailed after two knee operations against the US Open and the French Open. He posted a congratulatory message on Instagram on Sunday.
"As my biggest rival for many years, I believe we pushed each other to become better players," wrote Federer, ending with: "I hope 20 is just another step on the way for both of us. Good done, Rafa. You deserve it. "
Djokovic's loss, meanwhile, left him with 17 majors. If he had won, the ranking would have read 20-19-18.
No other man has more than 14.
This was Nadal's 56th episode against Djokovic, the most between men in the professional era. Djokovic is now 29:27 ahead, including his 6: 3, 6: 2, 6: 3 victory in the 2019 Australian Open final.
“He killed me in Australia. ... Today was for me, "said Nadal.
The most important statistic on Sunday: Nadal limited himself to 14 casual mistakes, which were impressive against anyone, but especially against someone of Djokovic caliber who had scored 52 points.
"He's phenomenal," said Djokovic. "He played a perfect match, especially in the first two sets."
The first set was a 45 minute master class led by Nadal, who came out incredibly crisp and clean, steering his spinning forehead exactly where he wanted it, and using his defense and attack skills to push balls back, stretch and to throw with aggression.
"I was playing at my highest level when I had to play at my highest level," said Nadal.
When he appeared resigned, Djokovic was less volatile than he often is when fighting - such as the post-point blow of a ball that accidentally hit a linesman at the US Open last month and received a disqualification, his only other Defeat in 39 games of the season.
Instead, Djokovic puffed his cheeks or rolled his eyes, perhaps annoyed with himself but also unable to figure out how to counter what was coming from the other side of the web. After an exchange, he raised his palms as if to ask, "What can I do here?"
It was only the fourth 6-0 set that Djokovic had lost in 341 Grand Slam games. As he sat in his next seat and digested this barrier, four Djokovic supporters in blue jerseys and white baseball caps stood and sang in the stands. Her choir drowned out the light drizzle on the retractable roof.
The highly anticipated matchup between these two titans of their sport was the French Open men's first indoor final, which was played under the new cover of Court Philippe Chatrier. From his stand in the VIP area, the Coupé des Mousquetaires trophy shimmered under the artificial light.
This was also the first French Open where players were wearing masks on the pitch due to the coronavirus pandemic. This was also the reason why the tournament was postponed from May-June to September-October and the number of spectators was limited to 1,000 per day. On Sunday, those fortunate enough to participate mainly in the first 20 rows focused on not very socially distant dense clumps.
"Of course it's an important day for me," said Nadal afterwards, "but I'm not stupid, no? It's still a very sad situation worldwide."
The seasonal change resulted in colder, wetter than usual weather, which affects the way the clay affects the shots, making them bounce deeper and slower. Some, including Nadal, wondered aloud if that would hinder him, as well as switching the tournament to a slightly heavier ball.
He thought he said, "This year is probably going to be too difficult."
So much for that.
He dealt much better with Djokovic's penchant for drop shots than with previous opponents of the 33-year-old Serbian, and used anticipation and speed to dampen the success of this strategy.
"Didn't work well today, let's say," admitted Djokovic.
Nadal played five of Djokovic's first six service games and broke a total of seven times.
Nadal only had five breakpoints herself and saved four.
More than two hours later, when Djokovic hired a backhand winner to hit his lonely hiatus he made the 3-all in the third set, he let out a few roars and waved his arms to urge more noise from the fans .
Too little too late. Less than half an hour later it was over.
"Rafa proved everyone wrong," said Djokovic. "That's why he's a great champion."
AP Tennis Writer Fendrich reported from Washington; AP Sports Writer Leicester reported from Paris.
More AP tennis: https://apnews.com/apf-Tennis and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports
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