|History in the making: The King of Clay claims his sixth French Open title [AFP]
A triumphant Rafael Nadal claimed his sixth French Open title at Roland Garros with a 7-5, 7-6 (7/3), 5-7, 6-1 victory over Roger Federer on Sunday.
Nadal, who beat Britain's Andy Murray to make the final, ignored a distracting rain delay to power past Federer in an often exhilarating match dominated by brilliant shots from both players, and firmly established his well-deserved title as the 'King of Clay'.
The victory meant the Spaniard equalled Bjorn Borg's men's singles record at Roland Garros while it also made sure he would remain world number one amid a dominant challenge from Novak Djokovic.
"Thanks to all the fans," said a jubilant Nadal after the match, having tied up his 10th Grand Slam crown.
"Thanks to all the ones who make this tournament the best in the world," said Nadal after his sixth win in eight Grand Slam final meetings with Federer.
Top seed Nadal, who was also champion in 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2010, took his overall Paris record to 45 wins against just one defeat and victory also meant he hangs on to his world number one ranking.
It was the 25-year-old Spaniard's 17th win over Federer in 25 meetings and fourth in a French Open final.
Nadal was forced to come from 2-5 in the opener, saving a set point, and then squandered a 4-2 lead in the third as 29-year-old Federer, the 2009 champion and bidding for a 17th Grand Slam title, threatened to launch a stunning comeback.
In the end, he was undone by a combination of Nadal's clay court prowess and his own 56 unforced errors.
Federer praised the Spaniard.
"It was an exceptional performance by Rafa. He's beaten me again. I'm sad but I am happy to play him again."
"It was an exceptional performance by Rafa. He's beaten me again. I'm sad but I am happy to play him again," said Federer.
"He is the best player on clay but I am proud of the way I have played over the last two weeks but I couldn't do enough against him."
A slow start to the two-week tournament by Nadal was long forgotten by the time two of the greats of the game came to clash in the final after third seed Federer had ended second seed Djokovic's 41-match winning streak in 2011 in the semis.
Federer raced to a brilliant 3-0 lead courtesy of two confident service games and a break in the second game on a fourth break point when Nadal netted a simple running forehand.
The Swiss champion, playing in his 23rd Grand Slam final, was soon 5-2 ahead, but Nadal regrouped and saved a set point in the seventh game, albeit by the smallest of margins when a Federer drop shot just missed the target.
The Spaniard went to 3-5 with a thumping backhand crosscourt winner before he retrieved the break in the ninth game with a sweeping, low forehand which the approaching Federer could only volley into the net.
|Federer wilted in the final set [GALLO/GETTY]
Nadal held for 5-5 and broke to lead for 6-5 by winning a thrilling eye-to-eye duel at the net with a reflex volley before a rattled Federer netted a simple forehand.
The Spaniard clinched the set after 62 minutes when he swept a killer forehand crosscourt with Federer hopelessly out of position.
It was Nadal's fifth game in a row and that soon became seven with a break and hold to lead 2-0 in the second set as Federer wilted.
Federer had to serve two aces on his way to saving three break points in the fifth game, but then broke to level at 4-4, for once breaching Nadal's defences.
But he handed the advantage straight back in the next game, skewering a backhand wide having saved two break points.
Nadal missed a set point at 5-4 before rain brought a 10-minute halt. He squandered another on the resumption before Federer made him pay to hit back for 5-5.
The top seed dominated the tie break. A weak approach from Federer allowed Nadal to fire back a backhand pass to carve out four set points and he was two sets to the good thanks to a another searing, forehand crosscourt winner.
Federer was broken to love to slip 4-2 down in the third set but bravely clung on to nip straight back to trail 3-4.
He successfully served to stay in the match in the 10th game, broke for 6-5 before having the crowd on their feet by snatching the third set 7-5.
Nadal fought off two break points in the opening game of the fourth set, then broke to love for a 3-1 lead and held for 4-1.
The fight was suddenly gone from Federer as Nadal clinched a double break for 5-1.
A netted service return gave Nadal three match points and a sixth title was his when Federer went long with a forehand and the emotional Spaniard dropped to his knees in celebration.
Like so many of their epic duels down the years, this was another match full of exhilarating rallies and spellbinding winners but "King of Clay" Nadal deservedly prevailed.