By Nick Zaccardi
PARIS — Three thoughts off Rafael Nadal’s 6-3, 6-2, 6-3 win over David Ferrer in the French Open final on Sunday …
1. Nadal stands alone (again). Nadal won his eighth French Open title and 12th Grand Slam title overall, moving past Bjorn Borg and Rod Laver into a tie for third on the all-time list (now five behind Roger Federer). He weathered delays by protestors (more on that in point No. 2) and drizzle, which was on and off all day but forced only one brief respite in the third set. Ferrer, an undersized, speedy battler in his first Grand Slam final, was no match for Nadal’s talent. Nadal was somewhere around a 10-to-1 favorite, two days after taking out Novak Djokovic in a 4-hour, 37-minute semifinal in what many perceived as the all-intents-and-purposes final. It wasn’t unbeatable Nadal, but it didn’t have to be.
The story last year was Nadal’s breaking his tie with Bjorn Borg for the most French Open titles. This year, Nadal breaks a tie with a group for the most titles at a single major that included both Federer’s and Pete Sampras’ seven Wimbledon crowns.
That record, however, does not include women. He’ll have to win two more to surpass Martina Navratilova’s nine Wimbledon singles titles (Open Era) — likely, I’d say — and four more to beat Margaret Court’s 11 in Australia — unlikely, but I feel preposterous saying there’s something Nadal can’t do at this venue.
What’s more remarkable than any stat is what Nadal has done in his return from seven months away. The last time we saw him was at Wimbledon, shockingly losing to Lukas Rosol in the second round. A knee injury kept him out of the Olympics, then the U.S. Open and Australian Open. He returned in February and has lost just twice, winning seven titles.
“Let’s hope that he stays healthy,” NBC’s John McEnroe said after the win. “Because we sure need him out there.”
2. The match will be remembered, in part, for a fan incident. A man with a flare made it onto the court during the second set and was wrapped up and thrown off it quickly. It drew memories of a 2009 incident at the French Open final when a man attempted to put a hat on Federer. It also made one think of Monica Seles’s stabbing incident in Germany, which re-entered the news on its 20th anniversary April 30. The difference this time was the man didn’t get close to any players. Nadal appeared affected, though, losing his ensuing service game (though he broke Ferrer on the following one.)
Sports Illustrated‘s Jon Wertheim reported that security identified the man as a protestor. Across the grounds at Court Suzanne Lenglen, a banner was draped with the words “Hollande Demission,” demanding the resignation of the French president. Paris has been the scene of protests and demonstrations throughout the last two weeks and since same-sex marriage was legalized May 18.
I witnessed a walking protest late at night last week that began at the Eiffel Tower and weaved through the streets for at least 10 minutes, around the École Militaire. Media security here, where my credential is scanned as I enter and exit and multiple zippers on my backpack have been opened every day, is tighter than I saw at the Champions League final in London, but not as strong as the Olympics.
As for the Roland Garros spectator guide, it reads, “Spectators are prohibited from bringing any sealed bottles (glass or plastic) larger than one litre, aluminum cans, or any sharp or blunt objects that could serve as projectiles, in to the Grounds. In addition, entry onto the site will be denied to anyone in possession of any object that can be considered a weapon or endanger public safety.”
3. Applaud Ferrer for his Ferrer-like effort. The longtime fifth to the Big Four had celebrated his 6-1, 7-6 (3), 6-2 semifinal victory over Jo-Wilfried Tsonga for the major accomplishment it was: his first win in a Grand Slam semifinal. But you’ve got to feel for the shortest man in the ATP top 20. How’s this for your first major final — David went up against Goliath.
Ferrer battled and battled, but couldn’t seize enough opportunities in his wrinkled lime-green T-shirt. And he had a few, squandering nine of 12 break-point chances. Ferrer will actually overtake Nadal in the ATP rankings come Monday. He’ll be fourth. Nadal will be fifth because he gained no rankings points by having the same finish at the French Open as he did last year.
Ferrer is playing his best tennis at age 31, though many will discredit him for not having to go through any of the Big Four to make the final here. He fell to 4-20 lifetime against Nadal, but he’s clearly the best player in the world without a major title. He didn’t drop a set leading into the final — unlike Nadal — and spent six fewer hours on court.