(USA Today) PARIS – Still the King of Clay.
Rafael Nadal of Spain won an unprecedented ninth French Open championship Sunday, denying Serbia's Novak Djokovic his quest to secure a career Grand Slam with the only major he lacks.
On Philippe Chatrier Court, No. 1 Nadal wore down No. 2 Djokovic 3-6, 7-5, 6-2, 6-4, in a match that went 3 hours, 31 minutes, becoming the first man to win five consecutive titles in Paris.
Nadal, 28, now owns 14 Grand Slam titles, tying him with Pete Sampras in second place on the all-time list behind only Roger Federer. The Swiss has 17.
Nadal also kept his grip on the No. 1 ranking, which six-time Grand Slam champion Djokovic could have wrested away with the win.
Nadal arrived at his favorite tournament on uneven ground, for him.
He lost three matches and won just one title on clay in Europe heading into Paris – his worst output since he was a teenager in 2004.
But as the tournament wore on, he confidence clicked in. His pinwheel forehand started to find its mark, his backhand found depth, and he began to look like the nine-time champion he was.
He blew past dogged David Ferrer 6-0, 6-1 in the last two sets of their quarterfinal and then completely outclassed Wimbledon champion Andy Murray in straight sets, calling it his best match of the season.
Djokovic, however, had won their last four meetings, including the final on clay in Rome last month.
And the 27-year-old Serb, who finished runner-up to Nadal in the 2012 Paris final, had come close to beating him in last year's semifinal. He led 4-2 in the fifth set and finally succumbed 9-7.
But there is no more immovable object in tennis than Nadal on the terre batteu of Paris.
With the win Sunday, the Mallorca native improved to 66-1. His only loss came to Sweden's Robin Soderling in the 2009 fourth round.
The Spaniard is also an unfathomable 90-1 in best-of-five set matches on clay in his career.
Still, for an hour on a warm and sunny afternoon it looked like it might finally be Djokovic's moment.
The Serb had hired legend Boris Becker this year to help him win more majors after losing in two major finals last year, and he started the match playing with precision and depth.
He dictated from the baseline as Nadal struggled to land his shots, misfiring often on the backhand side.
But just as Djokovic seemed to seize control in the second set – he broke to lead 4-2 – the Serb lost his concentration and played a sloppy service game to give the break back.
Emboldened, Nadal lifted his game, and started to push the elastic Djokovic around with wickedly spinning inside-out forehands.
He broke Djokovic to win the second set – firing a series of fist pumps at his camp and yelling his trademark "Vamos!" – and twice more in the third as he began to wear the Serb down.
No two men have played more in the Open era – this was their 43rd meeting. While their rivalry has had some of the sport's longest and most stirring matches and its share of twists and turns – Nadal leads Djokovic 23-19 overall –- the Spaniard has built a one-sided record in Grand Slam events.
He is 9-3 in all majors, 4-3 in major finals, and 6-0 at Roland Garros.
Nadal's five consecutive French Opens eclipse his own mark from 2005-08 and that of Bjorn Borg, who won four straight from 1978-81.
Borg, a six time French Open winner, was in the stands and was scheduled to present the winner's trophy.